It’s shameless, self-promotional exhibitionism that revels in the debasement of American values. And we’re not referring to Miley Cyrus.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, last week joined irresponsible colleagues in a debt-limit dance of death, twerking across the political stage, wagging in Americans’ faces the nether regions with which they apparently are doing their “thinking.” Addressing donors at a fund-raiser for Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Rep. Boehner promised “a whale of a fight” with President Barack Obama over raising the federal debt limit.
It’s a stupid, destructive tactic. Two years ago, Republicans for the first time seriously threatened to let America default on its bond payments and renege on obligations like Social Security and Medicare. It helped to cause the first downgrade in America’s bond rating — since restored. Making the renewed threat even harder to comprehend, it damaged the Republican Party.
Last week, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned Congress that without an increase in the $16.7 trillion debt limit, America will default in mid-October, several weeks earlier than originally speculated. A consequences-be-damned ideology by a significant Republican faction combined with fears of primary challenges from the right apparently have trapped certain GOP lawmakers in their dangerous position on the debt limit. Similar pressures have pushed some Republicans to extremes in the other fight crucial to the economy that looms when Congress returns next week from its Labor Day recess: How — or whether — to keep the federal government running when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
Some Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., say they would rather shut down the government than approve any spending deal that continues funding for the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Rubio also insists that the debt limit is an appropriate hostage to terrorize Congress and the White House into adopting a plan “that begins to bring our budgets into balance over the next decade.” Threatening default is appropriate, he says, because unless America gets its debt under control, “the day of reckoning will be upon us.”
If the likes of Sen. Rubio and Rep. Boehner block a debt-limit increase, the day of reckoning could arrive around Oct. 16.
If Sen. Rubio really believes that the debt is an imminent disaster, why won’t he agree to tax increases — as part of a deal with Democrats giving on entitlements — to avert economic disaster? Obstructionism on that point, which last week led to the collapse of budget talks between Senate Republicans and the White House, has prevented Congress from adopting a more sensible approach than the sequester, which is the foolish result of the 2011 debt limit crisis. Although House Republicans bear major responsibility, Democrats who oppose all changes in entitlements, such as switching to the chained CPI to calculate Social Security cost-of-living increases, share blame for the impasse.
Congress had been expected to pass a short-term “continuing resolution” to avoid a shutdown before reaching a last-minute debt deal. Now, even avoiding a train wreck is in doubt. A Congress that had learned from mistakes long ago would have raised the debt limit and at least made progress on a “grand bargain” to reduce the debt. But that could happen only if Congress were working instead of twerking.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
for The Post Editorial Board