Monday, July 25, 2011

Capitol Hill: Land of Dysfunction, Home of Crazy?

(Also at Daily Kos)

Over the weekend, rage was all the rage.

On Saturday night, aided by "a nice pinot noir," the tech and business-of-news writer Jeff Jarvis started to tweet.

"Hey, Washington assholes," he wrote, "it's our country, our economy, our money. Stop fucking with it."

He started rolling. Inspiration struck. "Can we start a Twitter chant: FUCK YOU, WASHINGTON! Pass it on." He willed the chant into existence.

Eventually, another tweeter set Jarvis straight and crafted this into a hashtag. We could see where this was going. Jarvis, one of the smartest promoters and meme-catchers out there, cultivated and curated a wave of angry tweets, retweeting the best ones, eventually harshing on the censorship that stopped his Howard Beale hashtag from trending. Most of the tweets came from liberals angry at the debt impasse. A small sample:
@mcullen546: #FuckYouWashington for calling programs that we pay for entitlements

@mwynn: We see through your public pension theft conspiracy so #fuckyouwashington

@Mr_Pettapucci #fuckyouwashington or letting corporations steal our natural resources and sell them back to the people for profit.

@rogldr5 #fuckyouwashington for all this posturing to assure your reelection.

@bguthro: #FuckYouWashington for playing russian roulette with the world's economic stability

And the rage isn't limited to this side of "the pond".

The [British] business secretary, Vince Cable, broke the unwritten rule of non-intervention in other countries' domestic disputes on Sunday by describing diehard Republicans as "nutters".

Cable, appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, said: "The irony of the situation at the moment, with markets opening tomorrow morning, is that the biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few rightwing nutters in the American Congress rather than the eurozone."

Until now, market traders had appeared confident that agreement would eventually be reached but US legislators fear that, following the collapse of talks on Friday, there could be the first signs of panic when Wall Street opens on Monday as well as other markets round the world.

And he's not the only one worried about the worldwide effects of a US debt default. Yet even as Capitol Hill is buzzing over arguments over whether Republicans are actually winning or losing this debt fight, the rest of the world simply wonders if we Americans have lost our minds.

Think about it. Why are we on the brink of defaulting on our debt? Why are the richest few asked to pay so little while the (growing masses of) working poor are lectured to sacrifice more and more and more?

And why are Congressional Republicans refusing to Harry Reid's most recent offer that gives them exactly the amount of cuts they've been demanding?

What Harry Reid did yesterday was essentially call the GOP’s bluff by outlining a plan that raises the debt ceiling by $2.7 trillion and includes $2.7 trillion in spending cuts, a healthy share of which comes from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Republicans are rejecting this even though it nominally meets their demands. Why? Because it doesn’t achieve either of their two real objectives. In particular, the plan doesn’t cut Medicare, which means that Democratic party candidates for office in November 2012 and 2014 can accurately remind voters of the content of the Republican budget plan. In case you forgot, this plans repeals Medicare. Having repealed Medicare, it then gives seniors vouchers to purchase more expensive private health insurance. And having replaced Medicare with a voucher system, it then ensures that the vouchers will grow steadily stingier over time. It was only after voting for this plan that Republicans seem to have realized that repealing Medicare is unpopular. Since that time, they’ve been trying to entrap Democrats into reaching some kind of Medicare d├ętente with them, which would immunize them from criticism. Reid’s plan doesn’t do that.

Second, while Reid’s plan doesn’t raise taxes, it also doesn’t take tax increases off the table. Currently, the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire in 2012. If Reid’s all-cuts plan passes, that still leaves the door open to significant revenue increases. Now that doesn’t mean this is brilliant 11-dimensional chess. The Reid Plan is consistent with substantial revenues coming online in 2012, but that will only happen if President Obama and Senate Democrats stand firm and play hardball on the tax issue. Back in December 2010, they utterly failed to do so.

Oh, that's right. This would cut military spending and withdraw our troops from wars we need not fight. We just couldn't possibly do that, not when we can instead threaten Granny's Social Security and Medicare, cut my student financial aid, and really do little, if anything at all, about the deficit. Damn that Harry Reid and his fiscal smarts!

So why are we even here? Why are we edging closer and closer toward complete economic ruin? Why are Republican leaders so willing to flirt with committing the ultimate economic murder-suicide on the entire world (Note: linked article is in French)?

Why are we here? Why are we on the brink of economic collapse? Why are we on the verge of crashing the global economy along with our own? And why can't we agree on any sort of sensible solution to this uniquely political problem?

This is the unfortunate reality. Common sense macroeconomics would lead us to recognize we need more public sector investment to stimulate economic growth and job creation. However House Republican leaders refuse to recognize common sense macroeconomics, and House & Senate Democratic leaders worry over the effects of a protracted debt fight that would lead to debt default. So how do we want our pain? Do we want a little hurt or a lot? Do we want to counteract past stimulus efforts, or do we just want to blow up the entire world economy?

This is the madness our federal government has descended into. So what can we do about it? Well, maybe we need to think twice about just "throwing the bums out", and think more about why we really need people in Congress who are willing to look at "the big picture" and pass smart policy.

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