Way back a couple of months ago, we were in the midst of a long, intense, frequently nasty but completely pertinent discussion about job creation. And, as whacky and inane and dishonest as a lot of the claims and statements and political positions were, at least they addressed a really dire situation that badly needs addressing.
But now, the subject of jobs has completely disappeared. Vanished! The whole topic barely makes the back page of the business section. Once again, the Republicans have changed the conversation. Only this time, it's not mainstream Republicans (Mainstream Republicans: there's a term that's becoming obsolete). It's the Tea Party branch who has made a political issue out of extending the debt limit. But, the rest of the Republicans and most of the Democrats are afraid not to follow. So Washington has stopped talking about jobs and focused completely on August 2nd.
So, let's talk about the debt ceiling for a minute... and then maybe we can get back to discussing jobs.
• According to every knowledgeable source of information, the consequences of refusing to raise the limit would be devastating to our economy.
• Raising the debt ceiling has been considered a distasteful but necessary bookkeeping step for the last several decades -- including all the times it was raised under Ronald Reagan.
• The only time the debt ceiling did not have to be raised was in the last few years of Bill Clinton's Administration -- because there was a budget surplus.
• It was raised repeatedly under President George W. Bush, with the concurrence of most of the same people in Congress who are now suddenly tortured by the very thought of it.
• And now, we have the Tea Party sect of the Republican Party; people who all woke up one summer morning in 2009 and were immediately irate that the annual deficit and national debt were too high.
• These folks continue to espouse the view that the debt is the preeminent issue faced by our national government, more urgent than a 9.2% unemployment rate; more urgent than a badly crippled economy trying to get back on its feet.
• The Tea Party Republicans deny that there are serious consequences for refusing to increase the debt ceiling. They appear to be irrational about this. They simply do not care about the fiscal health of the Government of the United States. If the country goes bankrupt, a lot of them will apparently be pretty happy campers.
• Trying to get them to accept that they're playing with matches in a dynamite store will not deter them. It's like trying to give parachute lessons to Kamikaze pilots. They don't care about soft landings. They just want to sink your ship.
• In addition to the Tea Party, there is also Grover Norquist, who for reasons a tad inconsistent with the vision of our Founding Fathers, wields inordinate power over more than 40 Members of the United States Senate and a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, many of whom profess to believe in a literal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.
• Grover Norquist is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution. Yet a guy who has never been elected to any sort of public office is clearly one of the most powerful figures in Congress.
• This is the same Grover Norquist, by the way, who is quoted as saying, "Bipartisanship is another name for date rape."
The debt ceiling is serious business, and it deserves serious action. The specter of refusing to raise it is so totally self-destructive for the nation and the nation's economy that allowing this to happen should be unthinkable. Holding the U.S. economy hostage to win ideological points is despicable, and sensible people must do everything they can to be sure that voters remember next year.
But, the longer that all official Washington's attention remains fixed on the debt limit "issue," the longer every other problem goes unaddressed. And that only serves the interests of those who don't want the nation's problems resolved before the 2012 election. Returning to an intense, frequently nasty but completely pertinent discussion about job creation won't necessarily provide a quick solution to the problem. But we sure won't find one unless we're talking about it.