This phony debt crisis has now passed through the looking glass into the realm where madness reigns. What should have been an uneventful moment in which lawmakers make good on the nation's contractual obligations has instead been seized upon by Republican hypocrites as a moment to settle ideological scores that have nothing to do with the debt.
Hypocrites, because their radical free market ideology, and the resulting total deregulation of the financial markets, is what caused the debt to spiral out of control this last decade. That and the wars George W. Bush launched but didn't have the integrity to responsibly finance. The consequence was a banking bubble and crash leading to a 50 percent run-up of the debt that has nothing to do with the "entitlements" that those same Republicans have always wanted to destroy.
Even Barack Obama has put cuts in those programs into play, warning ominously that a failure to lift the debt ceiling could cause the government to stop sending out Social Security checks. Why, when the Social Security trust fund is fully funded for the next quarter-century and is owed money by the U.S. Treasury rather than the other way around? Why would we pay foreign creditors before American seniors? The answer, offered as conventional wisdom by leaders of both parties, is that we cannot endanger our credit by failing to back our bonds, even though the Republicans have aroused the alarm of the main U.S. credit rating agencies by their brinkmanship on the debt.
What a topsy-turvy world when the same credit rating agencies that gave the thumbs up to the bankers' toxic mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps now threaten the AAA rating of U.S. Treasury bonds. According to them, it will not be enough to merely lift the debt ceiling -- what had been assumed by both Republican and Democratic presidents to be a routine act. In addition to that, as the credit agency Standard & Poor's has insisted, more than $4 trillion has to be cut from programs that mostly benefit the victims of the banking meltdown. Otherwise the agencies will downgrade the U.S. credit rating, leading to higher interest rates that will destroy what remains of the U.S. housing market, dim the prospect for any improvement in employment and further enrich the Chinese government and other holders of U.S. debt.
President Obama and the Senate Democratic leadership are clearly poised to cave in to those demands in the spirit of "compromise," Obama's favorite word, but the Republicans keep upping the ante. The GOP is shameless: Speaker John Boehner has sanctimoniously responded to Obama's plea for a bargain that gives up almost everything to the right wing by rebuffing the president on the grounds that the Republican Party is the last line of defense against big government.
Boehner dared blame Obama for "the largest spending binge in American history," which he attributed to the health care reform, most of which has yet to be enacted, and a stimulus program that was an underfunded effort to save American jobs. Not a word from Boehner or the other Republicans about the banking collapse that resulted from their deregulatory policies, the real cause of the inflated debt.
Boehner's slogan, "I've always believed, the bigger government, the smaller the people," is downright bizarre coming from someone who supported the Bush tax cuts for the rich, the banking bailout and the highest war spending since World War II, all of which is what caused government to get this big. Was it job stimulus spending that kept GM jobs in this country that made people smaller, or the loss of their homes and jobs as a result of the policies that are at the core of the Republican program?
What is at stake is a radical Republican agenda to totally reverse the progress in economic justice that began with the great reforms of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. Consider the direct consequence of the economic crisis that unfettered Wall Street greed has wrought, particularly in reversing the gains made by the most underprivileged sectors of the population. As The Wall Street Journal reported, based on a Pew Research Center study from 2005 to 2009,
"The wealth gap between whites and each of the nation's two largest minorities -- Hispanics and blacks -- has widened to unprecedented levels amid the housing crisis and the recession. ... The disparities are the greatest since the government began tracking such data a quarter-century ago. ..."
But there is plenty of suffering to go around as a result of the deep recession. The wealth of whites in that period declined by 16 percent, not to mention the ever-greater chasm between the top 2 percent and everyone else. That's the same 2 percent whose tax cuts the Republicans are determined to preserve.