In the Arena

Republicans’ Debt Ceiling Charade Is Downright Dangerous

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Win McNamee / Getty

Let us not put too fine a point on it: Thursday’s House vote on Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling proposal is a joke. If it passes the House, Harry Reid has said it is dead on arrival in the Senate. If it somehow passes the Senate, which it won’t, President Obama will veto it. It is, therefore, a symbolic act that is wasting precious time. It follows last week’s Republican theatrics, the passage of the Cut and Demolish Act (or whatever they called it), which also was a waste of time. These are the actions of a party that has completely lost track of reality–and of a leader, John Boehner, who has lost the support of his party.

And so I have a proposal: the Cut the Crap Act. It will have to be passed by Monday, to avoid default. And it will require an act of statesmanship from Boehner: he will have to modify his proposal and cut loose the Tea Party robots who are opposed to a deal of any kind. He will have to find common cause with Harry Reid and, yes, Nancy Pelosi, who are now willing to propose bills that should make any Teasie happy–bills without “revenue increases,” bills with a trillion dollars in budget cuts, more or less. He will have to find 160 sane members of his caucus and Pelosi will have to find 60 extremely tolerant members of hers to get us past this ridiculous moment.

The Cut the Crap Act isn’t actually my invention. It is the White House’s best case scenario for the next five days. This has been an exhausting process–one that might have resulted in an exhilarating triumph, if the Republican party were not led by nihilists like Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist. But one senses that the President is feeling the exhaustion and frustration. He is preparing himself for the worst of all possible scenarios: the uncertainty caused by the Republican anarchy has already damaged the economy, businesses are waiting to see what the interest rates will be and therefore delaying plans to expand. That uncertainty, added to the higher oil prices caused by Arab Spring, the European Debt crisis and the Japanese earthquake could well bring us a double-dip recession.

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But the President also seems absolutely intent on forcing this issue because the Republicans have used the debt ceiling weapon to upend the traditional balance of power in Washington. It is the ultimate nuclear option, creating a bigger bang than abuse of the filibuster in the Senate. If this Republican ploy succeeds, this nuclear option can be deployed again on other issues–surgical nuclear strikes directed at the funding of individual government programs and agencies. (Indeed, if she were less scrupulous, Pelosi could have used a debt ceiling vote to force President Bush to defund the war in Iraq.)

And so, here we are. Our nation’s economy and international reputation as the world’s presiding grownup has already been badly damaged. It is a self-inflicted wound of monumental stupidity. I am usually willing to acknowledge that Democrats can be as silly, and hidebound, as Republicans–but not this time. There is zero equivalence here. The vast majority of Democrats have been more than reasonable, more than willing to accept cuts in some of their most valued programs. Given the chance, there was the likelihood that they would have surrendered their most powerful weapon in next year’s election–a Mediscare campaign–by agreeing to some necessary long-term reforms in that program. The President, remarkably, proposed raising the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67.

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The Republicans have been willing to concede nothing. Their stand means higher interest rates, fewer jobs created and more destroyed, a general weakening of this country’s standing in the world. Osama bin Laden, if he were still alive, could not have come up with a more clever strategy for strangling our nation.

Updated, 2:07 p.m.