Saturday, October 24, 2015

Congress plans to fiddle while America burns (after House GOP starts the fire)

That's right. The GOPlins know what's going to happen - it damn near did the last time they made threats about the debt limit. And now they are doing it again: bringing the full faith and credit of the United States to the precipice and threatening to take down the world economy as well. This is not an accident, no matter what you hear elsewhere. There are Republican members of Congress who really would like to see us go off the cliff. When it happens, they get to prioritize which bills get paid. It's another ploy to cut big gummint programs like Planned Parenthood and EPA and ...

I hear you say "there he goes again with another goofy conspiracy theory. Well, suspend judgment and let Steve Benen at MSNBC/Rachel Maddow fill in some details and then you decide. (h/t AZBlueMeanie).

The Republican-led Congress has just 12 days before the nation’s debt ceiling has to be raised. If lawmakers fail to meet their responsibilities, the country won’t be able to pay its bills, we’ll default on our debts, the full faith and credit of the United States will be in jeopardy, and the economic consequences will be severe.

At this point, congressional Republicans appear to be divided into two groups. The first, which includes the GOP leadership, knows it must raise the debt ceiling, but this faction has no idea how to complete the simple task. The second, which includes far-right members in both chambers, wants to hold the debt ceiling hostage, threatening to crash the economy on purpose unless Democrats meets their demands, but this faction hasn’t bothered to fill out the ransom note.

So far, markets aren’t panicking, because everyone is working from the assumption that Republicans won’t deliberately create a recession for no reason – though anything’s possible.

What’s striking, though, is how little work is getting done. We’re 12 days away from a dangerous deadline – Congress is only in session for 7 of those 12 days – and Congress isn’t even trying to move towards a resolution yet. Instead, the GOP-led House spent time yesterday on something called the "Default Prevention Act."

With the potential for an unprecedented federal default two weeks away, House Republicans on Wednesday plan to pass legislation not to avert disaster, but rather to manage it, channeling daily tax collections to the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients if the government’s borrowing limit is not lifted.

Let’s put this in everyday terms. Imagine a gang told you they plan to burn down your town unless their demands are met. You’re skeptical and tell the gang to go away. But the gang members stick around and say, "Before we burn down your town, let’s start making plans to prioritize which parts of the town you might want to rescue before we turn violent."

That, in a nutshell, is what the "Default Prevention Act" is all about – the gang members passed a bill yesterday to prioritize which bills they’ll allow the United States to pay, and which bills will get burned by their fire.

The problem, of course, is that all of this is completely insane.

What we’re talking about is a plan in which Republicans try to manage the fire from their own arson, "channeling daily tax collections to the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients" after they refuse, on purpose, to raise the debt ceiling.

And why would GOP lawmakers prioritize the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients? On the former, because so much of the global economy rests on U.S. Treasury bonds, a deliberate default risks crashing financial systems across the planet. That would be … catastrophically bad.

On the latter, congressional Republicans don’t want to be responsible for cutting off Social Security checks for millions of American seniors, right in time for the holidays.

The "Default Prevention Act" is, by this measure, misnamed. It would prevent the nation from defaulting on some debts, while encouraging the nation to default on others.

Making matters just a little worse, Slate’s Jordan Weissmann explained that the GOP plan appears to be illegal and literally impossible to implement.

[E]ven if the government could borrow to pay bondholders and seniors, crossing the debt limit would still be plenty apocalyptic. Treasury’s computers still might not be capable of prioritizing its obligations, in which case we’d still end up failing to pay some bondholders despite Congress’s intentions.

The mere threat of such an accidental default could cause markets to seize. If the Treasury did successfully keep money flowing to its lenders, meanwhile, the government still wouldn’t be able to cover all of its other costs, and thus would be forced to implement massive, immediate spending cuts to other programs, likely dragging the U.S. and probably the rest of the world into a recession.

He’s referring, of course, to a recession that could easily be avoided by simply raising the debt ceiling – a simple, procedural vote that costs nothing.

Tick, tock.

AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona has quite a bit to say about this.

If Tea-Publicans don’t pull their infantile heads out of their ass in the next ten days, the U.S. faces a default on the full faith and credit of the United States on November 3. That would lead to economic catastrophe.

After the mutiny of Tea-Publicans that we have witnessed in Congress over the past month, I have absolutely no confidence in the ability of the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight to be able to do what is necessary. We are hurtling towards economic disaster and the media is not sounding the alarm — yet.

The media is starting to wake up. This morning the Daily Star ran a version of a report by AP's Andrew Taylor but it was not on the front page. Too bad, because the news from Congress is not good - in fact, it is horrible. The GOPlins are playing chicken with an economic train.

... House GOP leaders warn that they can't summon even minimal support for the kind of debt limit increase demanded by President Barack Obama — one that's free of any concessions to hardline conservatives. They are still holding out hope for some kind of add-on to make the politically toxic vote more palatable.

Too bad, say Democrats, who point out that Congress passed a debt-limit increase just last year without add-ons. And all but two of 188 House Democrats have promised to vote for the measure, which means it would only take just 32 out of 247 Republicans to produce a winning vote of the full House.

Top House Democrats scoff when told that GOP leaders say they might not be able to even deliver that minimal number.

"Then they ought to all be fired," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat. "It is inconceivable to me that there aren't 30-plus Republicans to vote to make sure their country is solvent."

"I believe they truly don't have the votes. It is not just a negotiating posture," said David Schnittger, a former longtime Boehner aide. "It's something nobody wants to vote for."

Only 28 House Republicans voted with virtually every Democrat last year to boost the debt ceiling; 19 of those lawmakers remain in Congress. Because of GOP electoral gains, Boehner would have to come up with a dozen or more additional Republicans to pass a "clean" debt limit measure with nearly all of the chamber's Democrats.

McCarthy recently told reporters — "I do not see 218 for any clean (debt limit) bill," referring to the number of votes needed to pass legislation through the 435-member House.

Jordan Weissman at Slate has the closer.

Playing with the debt limit is insane, full stop. There is no way to make it less insane. That's why Republicans used it as a threat in the first place. If they're going to keep playing this game, they might as well just embrace the crazy.

And they have and they do - every single day.

Happy Halloween from your Congress. Be afraid.

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