Friday, July 29, 2011

Default Lines

After trying and failing twice yesterday, majority Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives this afternoon finally managed to pass--if by a squeaker vote--a baldly partisan bill raising the nation’s debt ceiling, but tying it to $22 billion in cuts from next year’s spending and the passage of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. In other words, it’s a bill that has no chance of being approved by the Democratic Senate or ever being signed into law by President Barack Obama.

So the Tea Party yahoos and other Republican ideologues in the lower chamber once more wasted their time and tens of thousands of our taxpayer dollars in a symbolic gesture that accomplishes nothing. The final resolution to this GOP-created financial crisis, if there is to be one before next Tuesday’s deadline for raising the debt ceiling and avoiding default, will have to be worked out between the Senate and the White House, with hateful Republican obstructionists in the House ultimately relegated to the sidelines, having either to accept a compromise or provoke further financial disaster.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill later tonight, and quickly kill the thing. Its members will then have to work over the weekend to come up with a more balanced substitute that can gain not just Republican votes, but a majority of Democratic ones as well. Many investors, however, recognizing the intransigence of GOP ideologues on this matter, aren’t confident that such an agreement can be struck--which is why they’re pulling their money out of the stock and mutual-fund markets in advance of the August 2 deadline.

No matter what happens between now and Tuesday, it’s clear that the House has marginalized itself to the crazy zone. Even Americans who haven’t been paying close attention to the insanity of right-wingers trying to destroy Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid through this debt-ceiling fight, have to recognize in these final days the sheer incompetence of House Republicans and their inability to govern.

The cavernous divisions between veteran politicians on Capitol Hill, willing to compromise, and fire-breathing, my-way-or-the-highway Tea Partiers bent on destroying the government’s ability to help Americans in any manner have been striking over the last couple of months. It has fallen, at long last, to the “adults” in Washington, D.C.--President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), and whatever non-ideologues remain on the Republican side of the Senate--to save the United States from self-inflicted catastrophe. People such as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who was unable to convince House Republicans to go along with less-strident versions of a debt-ceiling increase, are the big losers in all of this; Boehner--never trusted by the wacko Tea Party crowd--can probably start counting down his last days in his present office, though who will succeed him, nobody knows yet. The sad thing is, it might be someone, like Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), who’s even less sensible and willing to negotiate with his opponents.

Meanwhile, Republican obstructionists in D.C. have become laughingstocks, not merely within U.S. borders, but in the rest of the world. The German tabloid Bild opines that “What America is currently exhibiting is the worst kind of absurd theatrics and the whole world is being held hostage ... Most importantly, the Republicans have turned a dispute over a technicality into a religious war, which no longer has any relation to a reasonable dispute between the elected government and the opposition.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

READ MORE:A Balanced-budget Amendment: Bad Idea, for Many Reasons,” by Robert J. Samuelson (The Washington Post); “Friday’s Vote Made Boehner’s Job Harder, Not Easier,” by Ezra Klein (The Washington Post); “Senate Quickly Tables Boehner Debt Plan,” by Josiah Ryan and Alexander Bolton (The Hill).

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