No doubt who’s responsible for the crisis, until there is

“The American people expect in Washington, when we have a crisis like this, that the leaders will sit down and have a conversation.”
– House Speaker John Boehner, Sunday, on ABC’c This Week with George Stephanopoulos

Really, Mr. Speaker? That may be true if it were a crisis caused by uncontrollable or unforeseen forces, but this is a crisis you created, by allowing a small number of stubborn, unfit-to-govern conservatives to push you into holding the government hostage over your party’s profound dislike for President Obama and his signature healthcare law.

Polls show sixty-five percent of the American people, including half of the ones who identify themselves as Republicans (a group which has lost considerable support since the 2012 election), are overwhelmingly against Congress using its power to control government funding as leverage against the Affordable Care Act. There’s no doubt who the American people see as being responsible for this crisis, Mr. Boehner – you and the Republican led House of Representatives.

U.S. President is greeted by Speaker BoehnerYet the latest GOP proposal, revealed Thursday, to lift the debt ceiling for only six weeks, still precludes resolving the ten-day-old government shutdown without talking to the White House and Senate Democrats about making changes to Obamacare, and other GOP budgetary pet peeves. Boehner calls it “a good faith effort on our part to move halfway, halfway to what [President Obama has] demanded.”

Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the White House daily briefing, Thursday, the president still insists keeping government agencies shuttered on the condition of agreeing to cuts to the Affordable Care Act and entitlement programs, and changing the tax code, amounts to paying a “ransom in exchange for the Republicans in the House doing their job,” something Obama has, so far, said he will not abide.

There is a political trap in Speaker Boehner’s “good faith” proposal, for Democrats, and it’s one based on what many Americans may understand about what’s going on in Washington, right now. Although we would all prefer to think otherwise, there’s a good chance the American people do not, for the most part, understand the difference between the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. To them, the distinction between the two is wonky nuance (even though they are completely different things), and they’ll assume that with the GOP offer, Boehner’s “crisis” is over.

After all, part of the DC cacophony the last two weeks has been the Senate Democrats screaming that they have been calling for a conference for months to reconcile, in “regular order,” their own budget, which they passed earlier this year, with the bill passed by the Republican House around the same time. If President Obama insists he will not sit down with Republicans to discuss changes to the budget until there’s a continuing resolution, it could be that people will then view Obama and the Democrats as being the chief obstructionists, and shift the blame to them.

According to Politico’s report of Thursday night’s White House meeting between Obama and Republican House members to discuss Boehner’s proposal, that may be the only way the GOP has to claw its way out of the corner in which it has painted itself:

“House Republicans told Obama at the White House that they could reopen the federal government by early next week if the president and Senate Democrats agree to their debt-ceiling proposal. After the debt ceiling is lifted, a House GOP aide said they would seek some additional concessions in a government funding bill.

“Obama repeatedly pressed House Republicans to open the government, asking them ‘what’s it going to take to’ end the shutdown, those sources said. The meeting was described by both sides as cordial but inconclusive.”

Read that as “no change,” except that even House Republicans are trying to find a way out of the disapproval of the majority of Americans.

To be sure, some of the more reasonable voices are the ones getting the least attention in this mess, and I don’t mean those, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who see repealing the ACA’s medical device tax as a way toward compromise. (That’s not reasonableness; that’s pimping your vote for an industry.) Still, at least they see the value of trying to find a solution to the shutdown as well as raising the debt ceiling.

“I’d like to do both,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters. “I don’t think we’re serving any policy or political goals by keeping the government shut down.”

The Senate has already passed a non-binding resolution that would require budgets be passed on a biennial basis, in odd number years, so they avoid election year grandstanding. Yes, 2013 is an odd number year, and there is definitely some grandstanding going on, but that’s because no budget has passed both Houses of Congress in years. The Republican sponsor of the Senate proposal, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), calls this inevitable quagmire a “conundrum.”

“It’s the right way to do business and it ends the necessity of having continuing resolutions at the last minute because you didn’t do our job,” he said. “Let’s face it: We’re here today in the conundrum we’re in because we did not do our jobs.” At least some Senate Republicans don’t have trouble finding agreement with the president. Now, if they can only convince their comrades in the House to do their own job.



Linking arms with Occupy – the last, best Baby Boomer chance

I am of the undertow of the Baby Boomers, the last third of a generation, unwilling to let go of our ability to subvert the tide and change the world, defined for us by our older brothers and sisters. Born between 1957 and 1964, we are the President of the United States, the governors of ten states (only three states have chief executives younger than we are), 16 US Senators and almost 100 members in the US House of Representatives. We are Democrats and Republicans, atheists and adherents, activists and apathetics.

The older Boomers who came before us were born in a time of a great, nationalist, moral validation brought on by the victories in World War Two, born when the world was trying to right itself after the end of European colonialism and the beginning of the Arms Race with the Soviet Union. By the time we, the remnants of a generation, came along, it seemed all the hard work had already been done.

Occupy and the 60s legacy
From Occupy Dallas, Dept. of Defense, UW Digital Archives & other public domain sources

Our younger brothers and sisters in the Occupy Movement have made that hard work worth doing again. Many more choose, once again, to link arms in unity against the enemies of social progress, like wealth disparity and growing national poverty, like a government controlled more by a complex of corporate corruption than by the needs of the people who elected them. The money promises to get our overpaid representatives reelected, and the new Super PACs, like the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and legislative ghost writers from ALEC, promise to keep their political opponents at bay by working to inhibit voter access through laws passed in more than a dozen states.

Just today, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) formally requested that US Attorney General Eric Holder investigate “whether new state voting laws resulted from collusion or an orchestrated effort to limit voter turnout,” the Miami Herald reported.

In one instance, a teacher in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, unknowingly violated that state’s new voter registration laws while trying to teach her students about the importance of becoming a voter. According to a story in the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“What happened is that [high school teacher Jill] Cicciarelli helped her 17-year-old seniors with the paperwork to preregister for the voting rolls, as she does every year. She’d been on maternity leave in the spring when the Legislature passed a voting law that, among other things, requires third parties to register with the state before they help sign up new voters.

“The law has proved so daunting that the League of Women Voters suspended voter registration efforts in Florida for fear of exposing volunteers to up to $1,000 in fines.”

Nelson told the students, “It is voter suppression,” the Daytona Beach paper reported.

But it’s not just voting rights. The entire debt ceiling debate last summer, and the current travails of the resulting Super Committee, now in session, are about the tax breaks for the wealthiest versus the needs of those who depend on government help to feed themselves and their families.

And that demographic is growing alarmingly fast. According to a September report from the US Census Bureau, between 2009 and 2010, “[r]eal median household income declined,”  and “[t]he poverty rate increased.”

More to the point of the younger protesters participating in the Occupy Movement, the Census Bureau report continues:

“An estimated 5.9 million young adults aged 25 to 34 resided in their parents’ households in 2011, compared to 4.7 million before the recession. By spring 2011, 14.2 percent of young adults lived in their parents’ households, representing an increase of 2.4 percentage points since spring 2007.”

Why do so many more live at home at an age when the rest of us couldn’t wait to get out of the house? The report points out, “45.3 percent had income below the poverty threshold for a single person under age 65 ($11,344).”

Some people have folded their arms, unwilling to embrace Occupy because they do not understand what the movement stands for. That might be because there is so much not going right for the future of our country, that one can throw a dart and hit an issue of concern to Occupy’s participants and adherents.

That’s why it is important not to greet them with folded arms, but with linked arms, the position they are proud to take before they are arrested for calling attention to the vanishing American Dream.


Debt rhetoric scary and entertaining at the same time

“I think disgust is still a valid emotion, and that’s kind of the way I’m viewing this.”

– James Amos, CEO, Tasti D-Lite, discussing Congress’ dysfunction, highlighted by the “self-inflicted” debt crisis, on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co, Friday, July 29, 2011

The time for staying above the fray with logic has passed. The simmering, schmaltz-laden pot of thick, soupy speeches in Congress and at the White House, the dire warnings and the vociferous finger pointing and loud, ignorant denials over the debt ceiling has boiled into a bubbling, sputtering mess that leaves no one seated on the governing burner unscalded. Even President Obama cannot escape the pain.

Whether one supports Speaker John Boehner’s plan, or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s, or some kind of compromise, or no compromise, they are all drowning in the same pot of gooey government gumbo like a tubeful of rendered sausage. It all smells terrible, it all tastes terrible, and the steam rising from it are the evaporating wisps of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society.

The pundits’ pre-mortem on the debt debate is that there will be no winners. Everyone loses here, all Americans and definitely all the politicians, if only by degrees. (The gold hoarders win, but that’s a conspiracy for another time.)

Still, some of the most lively, entertaining remarks ever heard from members of Congress, in either chamber, have come in the last month. Some are funny. Others are downright stupid. Here’s a short litany:

The president’s birthday conspiracy

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), in an interview with Newsmax TV, July 17: “I can’t help but be a little bit cynical here. Because we find out the president has a big birthday bash scheduled for August the 3rd, celebrities flying in from all over. And lo and behold, August 2nd is the deadline for getting something done, so he can have this massive, the biggest fundraising dinner in history for a birthday celebration.”

The old man doesn’t get these Tea Party whippersnappers

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), on the floor of the Senate, July 27: “To hold out, and say ‘We won’t agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution,’ it’s unfair. It’s bizarro. And maybe, some people who have only been in this body six or seven months or so, really believe that [we can pass something like that in the Senate].”

The Speaker, as parade ground drill instructor

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), speaking to his caucus, July 27: “Get your ass in line!”

The Speaker’s song

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), on the floor of the House, July 29: “Speaker Boehner is entitled to take as his theme song, It’s My Party, and I’ll Cry If I Want To.”

Lower the debt ceiling, drop out of the country club

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports:

Broun: “I introduced a bill to lower the debt ceiling, not raise it.”

Mitchell: “Congressman, when you talk about lowering the debt ceiling, the debt ceiling is being raised to pay for money that has been appropriated by this Congress and previous Congresses… You’re paying for what has already been charged, not for future expenses.”

Broun: “Well, Andrea, the thing is, when someone is overextended and broke, they don’t continue paying for expensive automobiles. They sell the expensive automobile and buy a cheaper one. They don’t continue paying for country club dues. They drop out of the country club.”

Boxer looks to KO Cantor

Sen. Barbara Boxer, on the floor of the Senate, July 27: “First Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip, marches out of [the White House talks] with his teddy bear and Republican blanket, and then a few weeks later, Boehner walks out.” And again on July 30: “Cantor picked up his blanky and went home.”

The Minority Leader as battle ax

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the floor of the Senate, July 12: “After years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is unattainable.”

But, the president says, it’s time to “peas” do the difficult thing

President Barack Obama, at a White House press conference, July 11: “It’s not going to get easier.  It’s going to get harder.  So we might as well do it now — pull off the Band-Aid; eat our peas.”

The Right thinks we need a Balanced Budget Amendment.  They call it a “permanent solution,” when, in fact, it just creates another long term problem, taking away by edict what politicians don’t have the balls to take away with a vote. It’s starving your mother, maybe literally, just to prove a point.

Broun and other Tea people actually want to  lower the debt limit, which would automatically put us into default. Intransigent so-called leaders petulantly walk out of negotiations. And yet, both sides feel, now is the time to do these things.

As the president said, at the end of his “peas” statement, quoting the great sage, Rabbi Hillel, “If not now, when?”

He might have done better to include the first two lines of that text, to remind lawmakers that they are obliged to take care of others, as well as looking after their own interests:

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? If I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” Rabbi Hillel, the sage, in the section of the Mishnah known as Ethics of the Fathers

America’s mad circus

DC Circus

“There is no aphrodisiac like madness, but it wears off quickly.”
-Kevin Baker, from his novel, Dreamland (HarperCollins, 1999)

In the din of madness, the seething intensity of rancorous anger, the light of American glory dims yellow like a string of bare bulbs outside a red, white and blue striped circus tent. The barker calls one and all to behold the acts, the jugglers and the clowns, the unicyclists and lion tamers, as they make us jeer and cheer, laugh and cry, and sit transfixed in the dark bleachers, while the government show unfolds before us…

Ladies and gentleman of America, welcome to the big dome circus! Tonight, and for the foreseeable future, you will be witnesses and unwilling participants in the Greatest Sham on Earth! Pay attention to the center ring in the Capitol Rotunda, and what you will see is guaranteed to flabbergast and disgust you. It could come form the left, or from the right, from the asses riding elephants backward around the arena, or from the clowns piling out of the Giant Dollar Bill’s shorts or the snake-piss swallowers who poop piles of hard, gold currency.

The conclusion is unavoidable, the process “inevitable,” the principles non-negotiable. Nothing is on the table and everything is on the table AT THE SAME TIME! It’s amazing!

Watch, as Lonesome John, the sad clown from Ohio, whimpers as he shuffles to his two-step process. Watch, as Maudlin Mitch punts our credit rating down the field, without ever managing to score a touchdown. You’ll cheer as Barack the Great balances on the highwire, in a way that both frightens and entertains.

You’ll see the leaders of our story dance ineffectually around the clock to the cha-ching, cha-ching of the carnival calliope, disappearing for a time, then reappearing when you most expect it, Coburn, then Cantor, then Boehner, all in a do-si-do. The players may switch roles – willing negotiators become corporate tools, unsympathetic oligarchs become sympathetic fools – but the drama remains the same.

Watch compromise appear briefly, and then disappear, before your very eyes! Watch, as the clothes disappear off your back with your bargaining rights, your paychecks disappearing into thin air like flash paper! The hand may be quicker than the eye, but it’s slower than the mind, and you’ll watch with numbing glee as the shaft comes toward you and makes you bend over, grab your ankles and take it, willingly.

It’s the Greatest Snow Job on Earth, and you are a captive audience. The mad voter, in their drunken rage, paid for your ticket in 2010, and you’ve no choice but to sit and watch, and occasionally bury your face in your hands in futile despair.

Still, the curtain must close on this cacophony eventually, and you get to exit the tent and enter the polling place, as the circus is dismantled behind you in November, 2012.


I’m up on the tightrope…

Audacity and the ‘legislative reality’ fallacy

“The legislation the President has asked for cannot pass the House. I’m happy to discuss these issues at the White House, but such discussions will be fruitless until the President recognizes economic and legislative reality.” – Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), in a July 5, 2011, statement

Both Boehner and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have used the phrase “legislative reality” a lot since President Obama’s press conference chastisement of the GOP’s Congressional leadership last week. It’s time for Republican legislators to get a lesson in the nature of reality, and the distinction between reality and choice.

Obama inaugural - Boehner
Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH) watches as President Obama takes his Oath of Office, Jan. 20, 2009. Who is following their oath to govern better? (Credit: Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force)

While it is true that they have signed Grover Norquist‘s crazy, cutting-off-your-nose -to-spite-your-face pledge not to raise taxes, they have also sworn a Constitutional oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Under normal, rational consideration, shouldn’t that oath take precedence over some fealty to a couple of paragraphs of politically charged rhetoric that serves, not the country as a whole, but a small segment of well-off Americans who want to have power over the rest by having more money than the government? Or really, to buy the government out from under us?

For our Congressional representatives, in both houses, their Oath of Office is the reality. It is their charge, not their choice. Any promises, especially those made for purely political reasons, are irrelevant, and what’s worse, irresponsible, in a time of financial crisis.

Sadly, though, the ball does not rest in Congress’ court. The debt-limit is a crisis in play between the White House and Capitol Hill, with the West Wing doing all it can to deflect the the GOP’s political petulance. The president, spokesman Jay Carney told the press, Tuesday, insists that “leaders were elected to lead, to make hard choices, to compromise, and to take some flack for that compromise.”

The Republicans, though, insist that it is the president who is not engaged in the process, despite Obama’s protestations last week.

Given the GOP’s bias, it’s hard to take their accusations of President Obama’s lack of engagement seriously, but his choosing how deeply to wade into controversial issues, Affordable Care Act notwithstanding, has lacked the audacity he likes to be known for. He expects the system to work its will, as he did with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (which a court ordered, Wednesday, to be lifted immediately). That’s why he probably will not issue an Executive Order, based on the Fourteenth Amendment, to raise the debt ceiling.

Obama’s conundrum, in trying to fulfill his promise to be a president for all Americans, is that this is not the Congress we grew up with. This is an all or nothing group of legislators, who will disallow all logic and reason in order to have their own way on the economy – one that benefits the wealthy and super-wealthy, and believes that America’s working class must serve them. Wall Street, banks, multi-nationals, defense contractors, all believe that we owe them a blanket amnesty, because they make the country run. It’s a train of thought that has driven us into the dark tunnel in which we now find ourselves, and the only light on the other side is the presidential intervention the Republicans in Congress are calling for.

The only thing is, they want the president to lean on Senate Democrats to come over to the GOP side. That is what they mean when they say, “The president should show leadership.” Real leadership, though, would be for the president to tell them that if this were an actual corporation, they’d all be fired for keeping the company from moving forward on its obligations. A do-nothing Congress deserves to be fired. He can’t do that, though. This is not a country where we can sack the government and call for new elections.

We can, however, remind GOP lawmakers of their commitment to govern –  not work to get re-elected – to the best of their ability. As New York Times columnist, David Brooks, put it in his column, Tuesday, if the Republicans continue on their current course, voters “will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern. And they will be right. ”


The devil at Obama’s door

South façade of the White House, the executive...
Image via Wikipedia

No matter what happens with the US economy between now and November, 2012, the Republicans are going to drag it all, lead and gold, wrapped in a tablecloth, and drop it at the White House door. Of course, it should be that way. The president is the face of federal responsibility, and he is in charge. Rightly or wrongly, he will be both blamed and/or praised for the condition of the deficit and the budget, of unemployment and private sector job creation. President Obama will step up, actually has stepped up, and raised his hand like a guard called for a foul.

The attitude of politicians these days only makes it worse. House Republicans have it in their heads that the public will find the condition of the economy out of Congress’ hands, even when it comes to the current crisis of raising the debt limit before it adversely affects our global economic standing. Asked about the president’s meeting with GOP lawmakers yesterday, to move toward an agreement on the debt ceiling, one House member said, “At the end of the day, [Obama] will have to give in” to the majority’s demands of spending cuts to entitlements, according to a report on Politico.

The Politico story reveals that even though Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH) left yesterday’s meeting saying he and the president agreed that something must be done about the debt limit:

“Boehner’s let’s-get-a-deal-done stance masks a deeper belief within the House Republican Conference — that Obama will back down eventually and agree to its demands, forcing Capitol Hill Democrats to follow suit.”

Why wouldn’t they think that? That’s how it went down with the Bush tax cuts that were extended, even before the GOP majority took over the House. That’s how it was done with the 2011 budget, when it was finally passed. As the saying goes, you teach people how to treat you, and the Republicans in Washington have learned that if they take an intransigent stand, the president will, eventually, give way to their way, even if he has only nominal political cover.

The 2012 election conversation is here, and 2011 isn’t even half over. When Mitt Romney announces he is running, Thursday, an early release of his speech says he will saddle the economy right on the president’s back, saying that everyday Americans are being “crushed by this Obama economy.” Of course, he says he can turn it around as soon as he gets into the Oval Office.

Maybe the reason that the Republicans are having trouble being enthused about the candidates getting in the presidential race is that the best and smartest prospective candidates know that even if they have a better chance of winning than the current pack, they want to wait until fixing the economy is less of an uphill climb. Otherwise, it could be “this Christe economy,” “this Daniels economy,” or “this Perry economy” that is threatening the proverbial greatness of America. It is possible that maybe we’re just not that great. Ya think?


GOP takes stand on debt, ceiling collapses on kitchen table

Why would the GOP bring to the floor of the House a bill, Tuesday, that Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced, when he even says it is a bill that “will and must fail?” Of course it did, with less than half of Democrats supporting it.

They just want to bring the economy under President Obama down, so they can blame him. It doesn’t matter much to them if their transparent intransigence rightly frustrates centrist voters. Their goal is raising a rabble from the Right. Once again they drive the conversation, frightening more than half of the House Democrats to vote against a bill that would raise the debt limit with no spending cuts, a plan the White House and Democrats had been pulling for when the conversation about the spending limits began.

There is a lot of smoke and mirrors around this ploy, to be sure, but the biggest misdirection comes at the expense of the Tea Party people who really don’t want the debt ceiling raised at all. Pay attention to what Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) released on Wednesday:

any debt limit increase needs to be met with even larger spending cuts”

Notice that the 150 economists who Speaker Boehner cites in his statement don’t say not to raise the debt ceiling. They say raise it, but also cut spending. The TP’ers, you see, believe that raising the debt limit will mean the government will spend more, something that is incredibly shortsighted on the stage of global economics. The Republicans know that. That’s why the Speaker’s statement does not say they won’t raise the limits; it says they will only raise it when there are “spending cuts.”

But even though the Republicans pitch it to their base as kitchen table politics, it’s a giant kitchen in a house with lots of rooms that depend on what Mom and Dad decide, and if they talked to their credit card companies, they would find out that if they carry no balance, their available credit will go down and their interest rate will go up, because there’s money made in managing money.

President Obama and his administration, though, have already lost the argument to keep the debt ceiling and spending cuts separate issues. The answer to cutting what the government spend is to insist on raising the debt limits, then let’s talk about spending.