It Is Debt Ceiling Economic Danger Time….Again

The requirement to raise the debt ceiling is not a negotiable issue.  Setting a precedent that the most extreme members of Congress can hold hostage the financial stability and credibility of the U.S. and even the global economy is not a tactic that can be allowed. Those are two bedrock statements that are to be center stage in the weeks and months to come as one of the most dysfunctional House majorities in our lifetimes takes the reins of power in Washington.

Let us put the facts upfront about this issue. The debt limit caps the total amount of allowable outstanding U.S. federal debt.  As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress Friday, “the Treasury Department would begin taking “extraordinary measures” in order to avoid a potentially catastrophic default but urged Congress to take further action to raise or suspend the borrowing limit.” In other words, Congress, and that clearly means House Republicans, need to be adults and either raise or suspend the debt limit or the Federal government will lack the cash to pay all its obligations. That has never happened before.

The bottom line that remains is the Treasury Department issues bonds to fund spending approved by the president and Congress beyond what is covered by federal revenue. But when we reach the debt limit, the Treasury is no longer authorized to issue new bonds. At that point, Treasury must take “extraordinary measures” until the president signs a bill for a new debt limit increase. Why we have every reason to be deeply concerned, and the markets will echo that angst, is that raising the debt limit has no direct impact on the size of the national debt. It has no impact either on more spending or freezing or restricting spending. The only thing that increasing the debt limit does is pay expenses previously authorized by presidents and Congress.

What are front and center is the Republican desire to get something for their vote on the ceiling. Instead of just doing their job, the conservatives want to be bought off for their votes.  In the rhetoric of the weeks to come we need to be mindful of what conservatives are battling, namely, themselves. The facts about the growth in government, the red ink, and who carries more responsibility for its creation must be borne by Republicans, as data and facts prove. Steve Rattner proves the point in another of his powerful graphs.

Republicans like to blame Democrats for all this borrowing. But the facts show otherwise. Five of the six presidents who incurred the most debt relative to the size of the economy in the past 60 years were Republicans. While Donald Trump faced the need to counteract Covid effects, his tax cuts and spending increases also played a major part. And Barack Obama had to deal with the financial crisis. But the fact remains that of the 57 percentage point increase in the debt to GDP ratio since 1960, 52 percentage points – all but five percentage points – were incurred with a Republican in the White House. (Note that Republicans and Democrats held the White House for roughly equivalent periods over these decades.)

The point needs to be made the rhetorical steam from the current crowd of conservatives in the House must be put into context.  The GOP agreed to raise the debt ceiling three times when Donald Trump served his one term in office.  I admit to feeling somewhat guilty for writing this paragraph as it runs counter to my main point in this post. That being a bi-partisan vote of the Congress has no role other than to increase the ceiling.  While the GOP was correct with their votes in the Trump years, however, it is the hypocrisy now that must be understood.

A fanciful and truly dangerous provision is being bounced about by the far right wing in Congress that would split portions of our federal budget into sections that would then be addressed by a debt ceiling increase.  Conservatives would, under such a plan instruct the Treasury Department to prioritize debt service payments, Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits, and military funding. Everything from meat inspectors to the FAA, federal housing authority, and a very long list of other vital parts of federal programming would not be covered. 

Economists are stunned at the ability of House Republicans to play so close to the edge of the economic cliff.  With as much composure as can be placed on those learned ones, who clearly want to scream at the severely under-educated in Congress, economists press the point that debt prioritization would not sidestep the economic consequences of failing to raise the debt ceiling. While partisans will ramp this effort up ever higher it needs to be noted what true conservatives are saying about the debt ceiling increase.

Raising the debt ceiling should be – and often has been – a routine matter. It does not authorize any new spending. Rather, it gives the executive branch the borrowing capacity it needs to honor existing spending commitments. It is Congress that decides on spending levels and tax rates, and when it sets federal spending higher than federal revenue, it implicitly determines the size of the budget deficit. Raising the debt ceiling merely allows for the borrowing that is needed to meet the obligations that Congress itself has created.

“The Dow would plunge by thousands of points per day, and the credibility of the US — its trustworthiness as a country that pays its debts on time — would be substantially eroded. After a day or two of this chaos, a clean bill to increase the debt ceiling would pass both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. Republicans would have accomplished nothing.”

Adding to this chaos that is simmering and soon to grow with intensity is the chasm developing in the GOP House caucus.  As noted this past week, the Wall Street Journal reported the cutting frenzy in the GOP has pitted “Republicans who want to protect military spending against those who see such expenditures as fair game in any negotiations alongside cuts to domestic programs.” Before they start attacking the nation’s creditworthiness they should first decide what they stand for as a political party.

When it comes to the debt limit issue there has never been any doubt as to where I stand. It would still be the soundest move to pursue a deal that would permanently remove the requirement that Congress repeatedly raise the debt ceiling. That would be good news for the nation.

House Republicans Not Serious At Governing

During 2022 many political observers were commenting that Republican efforts to win seats in campaigns around the nation were not being conducted in a serious fashion. Rather than running on issues and policy platforms with specified ideas for governing, GOP resentments and anger with conspiracy theories were far more often the offerings to voters. There was a continuing need from the GOP to placate Donald Trump, play to election deniers, stoke racism, and churn up angst about transgendered people.

When the Republican Party did talk about an issue, they only desired to foment fear concerning it, and never offered reasoned discourse as to possible remedies. For instance, in the months leading up to their own predicted ‘red wave’ at the balloting boxes, reports about violence in America reached a fevered pitch. Those who watch Fox News were presented with stories galore about mayhem. Some might have thought those news anchors would breathlessly break into song with “ya got trouble folks, right here in River City, Trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool”.

What these candidates and their network wished to impart was that violent crime was surging, cities were out of control, and worse, Democrats were responsible. With such dire consequences for the nation, it would only make sense for the health and well-being of the populace, that once these Republicans had power, they would use it for the safety of the nation. After all, that is what being elected, and governing are all about. Late last week the speaker’s gavel was finally being held by Kevin McCarthy and the governing process could being.  Crime would surely start to feel the wrath of the law-and-order party.

But then something odd occurred. 

Crime was no longer the nemesis that it was purported to be, and the very slim majority of Republicans in the House decided that playing to the base of angry Republicans was far easier to do than govern.  So with no sense of shame, the GOP voted to launch a wide-ranging investigation into federal law enforcement and national security agencies.  (This is but the first sign of the tail wagging the dog, as Speaker McCarthy does the bidding of the ‘Taliban 20’ within his fractured caucus.) The fragile conservative Republicans were more concerned about their perceived slights and snubs than what the nation might be talking about and wishing to have addressed.  The idea that angry white men within the GOP need to have their grievances given a special committee is not lost on a national electorate that has been turning away from that party for years.

Forget climate change or addressing worker shortages or strengthening health care coverage! All of those issues and many others fell to the chamber floor as the first measures to be considered so that grievance politics could make national headlines.

The lack of seriousness from the Republicans in their first hours of governing aligns with their sad attempt at campaigning.  Within days of the ‘red wave’ turning to a pink trickle following the balloting it was noticed Fox News was no longer interested in all the violence in the nation. That channel simply decreased its coverage of violent crime by 50% compared with the pre-election average.

The lack of journalistic standards by Fox News is only rivaled by the lack of credibility from the new GOP House majority. We now have Congressman Jim Jordan, who was front and center with his support of the insurrection on January 6th, now being put in charge of a committee to investigate the investigation.  This is more suited to a Martin Cruz Smith novel than how our American government should operate.

I well understand that some conservative voters support this behavior and are pleased. But I know full well that the majority of the nation watching and being concerned about governing are aware of how they knew all along the real intentions of the GOP 2022 campaigns.

Never Again, Donald Trump, Never Again

This arrived in our mail today, having ordered it as the Old Year wrapped up.

There was an author, Allen Drury, who as a boy in the 6th grade captured my attention with a book about a jointly traveled space mission between the U.S. and the then USSR. I was so desiring to be an astronaut at the time, but instead of space, he alerted me along with other events, that political happenings were perhaps more my mission in life. In high school, I started his Advise and Consent series and the cast of continually captivating characters made such an impression that those 6 books have a special place on my shelves over my shoulder as I type today.

But Drury, a former newspaper reporter before his time as a Pulitzer-winning author, could not have created the plot line for what the series of insurrectionist moves researched and reported in this book (pictured above) did to our nation. Drury would say, without a doubt, that our Founding Fathers warned against raw populism and why the citizens needed to not neglect why virtue is a sign of character that we must strive for when elections are held for top offices. He would also remind us that the Founders wanted an informed electorate. Drury was, and I use this term in the best manner here, an old-fashioned American. I am one, too. I suspect most of my readers on this page are the same.

I still believe that our ideals as a nation matter and our purpose on the world stage is essential. The January 6th attack at the heart of our election process and the continued effort to undermine democracy and sully the faith citizens must have in the act of elections allowing for the peaceful transfer of power, strikes not only anger within me but a profound sadness that I again felt holding this book in my hand. It is our duty to know this series of events, and with a determination that equals the Founders in not kneeling to lesser men, we must have that same fortitude to make sure Donald Trump will not have another chance to further damage and destroy what I still firmly know is the best governing system in the world.

Never again will Americans allow Donald Trump to rip at our Constitution.

House Cameras Should Have Full Rein, Democracy On Parade Good For Nation

Politicos had the week of their lives as the House of Representatives slogged through a 15-ballot process to determine a Speaker, an epic-sized drama with a cast of characters and plot twists that famed author Allen Drury (Advise and Consent series) would have had a hard time creating. It was an adrenaline rush, that once concluded very late Friday night, allowing for the nation of television watchers and social media followers to lean back deep in their sofas and truly exclaim “Wow!”

There was no way for even casual viewers or the most lackadaisical of citizens not to have been aware history was being made.  The nation soon was talking about the fact it had been nearly a century that a Speaker election at the Capitol required more than a single ballot.  Tension mounted so that reporters spoke openly and even somewhat thrillingly that no one knew how the events would play out.  This was after all, why they wished to join the journalism profession. Soon those in the land who thought they were not interested in history started talking about Nathaniel Prentice Banks, who in 1855 required 133 ballots over two months to secure the gavel. It was that type of week.

As the politics were playing out with spirited nominating speeches on the chaotic House floor, while the ratings for all news channels increased, Americans realized something truly quite fascinating was occurring in front of their eyes. Gone were the stale and formalized offerings from the C-SPAN cameras that only allowed for the House member speaking to be viewed, or the chair of the Speaker to be focused upon.  Rather there was a freewheeling display for the citizens to watch, as the cameras caught every angle of the story and made sure the main players and the supporting roles in the drama had plenty of air-time. On the first day, there was lonely George Santos, who got a break in his highly troubling running narrative due to a much larger headline overshadowing him. There were animated discussions where Matt Gaetz was the focal point for viewers. Friday night there was nearly a brawl that was captured by the cameras.  Though this was not legislative sausage being made, the nation was better understanding what was happening so as to elect the main meat grinder.

Congressman Mike Rogers was physically restrained by another member while going after Matt Gaetz Friday night.

Needless to say, there are news stories to be seen and told regarding the working coalitions of House members via the interactions on the floor.  Accounts that can only be presented fully to the nation if House cameras are allowed to record such moments. But all that was lost again once the House passed its rules and again abides by the most outdated and self-protecting rules in Washington.  (Other than at the Supreme Court.)

Brain Stelter, former anchor of CNN’s Reliable Sources is a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. He made a very compelling argument for the cameras to operate in an open and transparent fashion in a must-read column in the Boston Globe.

But consider what the public is usually unable to see: The joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, was not deemed deserving of independent TV coverage. So when the proceedings were adjourned due to the mob at the doors, the cameras were immediately turned off. Viewers should have been able to see the attack as it happened on the House floor — and the imagery would have made it harder for hard-right media personalities to deny the reality of that day.

But the desire to treat the House as a private workspace is superseded by the very public nature of the job. As a compromise of sorts, congressional leaders should allow a pool of journalists’ cameras for major news events and legislative debates — and the news media should determine what counts as major, not the government.

Sound journalism demands that the cameras operate for the benefit of the public’s right to know and better understand how their government functions. Or fails.  There really is no better or more sound argument to be made.  What politicos and everyone else were able to see and react to, be it with a partisan tinge, a historic perspective, or just from a ‘can not take my eyes off the crash scene’ mentality’ is that having more information is always a better route to take.

The fortunate lack of rules at the start of the year in the House allowed the cameras to give our nation insight into how a legislative body actually looks, feels, and reacts to the minute-by-minute tumult. It may not be pretty, but it is our government ‘working’. It is, for better or worse, democracy on full parade.

Kevin McCarthy ‘House Speaker’ Political Cartoons

The Taliban 20 are still at work undermining the Republican Party and preventing the forwarding ability for the House of Representatives to function. This is precisely why the Donald Trump factor in our politics has been destructive and warrants our full disdain. Any Republican who thinks this is a winning formula as the nation watches, as independents and moderates across the land expect the government to work, and see who is thwarting the will of the House to even organize sends a clarion call about the dangers to the GOP moving forward.

Kevin McCarthy deserves to be undermined and never elected speaker due to his absolute sellout to Donald Trump and dangerous illiberal moves aimed at the heart of democracy, all in an effort to be the speaker. But, it is also true that the absurdity of the thumb-draggers and bizarre anti-government zealots must be treated to some harsh political realities, as they are nothing more than terrorists in nice suits. There is no better example as to why total revulsion can be and must be unleashed on this group, which includes a child sex predator (Matt Gaetz) election deniers, or the wingnut who sends out Christmas cards promoting assault weapons (Lauren Boebert).

Editorial cartoonists, meanwhile, are finding no shortage of material to use as they draw for the Op-Ed pages of newspapers nationwide. The wretched among the GOP seem intent on giving the nation pure excrement.

Top Aide To Kevin McCarthy Gets Noticed For Professionalism

UPDATE

I have watched the coverage for two days from the all-news networks of the battle for House speaker. There is one continuous calm in the storm–the man who is a top aide to Kevin McCarthy. He is John Leganski, the Deputy Chief of Staff for House Floor Operations. His composure and focus on the task at hand are not missed. Government employees too often get unfairly smeared by anti-government types, but this man is often walking about prior to votes and connecting with those who need to hear what must be said, and his poker face is exactly what the job demands. Hours of coverage throughout the week have proven he has mastered the professional cool. Two thumbs up.

Kevin McCarthy Proves What Happens When Tossing Aside Core Values

Stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything. That sage advice was handed down from our parents and grandparents and it has proven to be a bedrock value that stands the test of time. I thought of that wisdom while watching the multiple ballots for House Speaker take place on Tuesday. Kevin McCarthy surely heard the advice in California that I heard growing up in Wisconsin. But as we witnessed over the past two years through newspaper and television reports his behavior following the January 6 insurrection with his tilting in the wind and then fully embracing election deniers dismayed many and disgusted far more. It was highly troubling to witness how he linked himself so tightly to Donald Trump, even in the face of facts that proved Trump had lost the election and championed an insurrection. The nation saw that McCarthy would do anything to hold the House gavel.

Wisconsin Congressman Scott Fitzgerald listens to a nominating speech for fellow member Jim Jordon.

If there is a lesson to be learned from McCarthy’s actions following Donald Trump‘s election loss in 2020 it is that principle and core values must not be tossed aside all for the anticipation and glory of future political power.  While the Freedom Caucus, a far-right wing bunch of continuously maladjusted and malcontented House members have both personal and political differences with McCarthy and see themselves as having achieved a great deal today with their plotting and planning, many liberal Americans across the land strongly approve of McCarthy’s national comeuppance.  His behavior over the past 24 months has been most unseemly and lacking in core values.  That is simply not the type of character that should sit in the Speaker’s chair.

Time and again coverage of balloting showed congressman-elect George Santos alone while the collective collegiality of the members buzzed around him.

When Lyndon Baines Johnson maneuvered in truly unseemly ways so as to gather power and move himself up in the political leadership roles in Washington, he then used that power, once it was secured, in a wise fashion for the betterment of society. As Robert Caro points out in his tomes (and we are still waiting for the fifth and final volume) Johnson was ruthless in his attainment of power, but then used it in enlightening ways for the nation.  Other historians have written how George Herbert Walker Bush used a highly racial ad in the 1988 campaign, but once in office, used his power for great achievements, such as working for and signing the Americans with Disabilities Act. But when it comes to McCarthy there is nothing in his portfolio that demonstrates he has any regard for such a use of power should he hold it.

The House has adjourned until midday Wednesday, and there may be developments that take place due to backroom deals and caucus agreements. No doubt, McCarthy will continue his quest for power but having witnessed what he did to attain such a leadership role in the House no one can now conceive that he would be a wise steward of the gavel. That lack of a broad outlook for national needs is most likely a flaw in any of the consensus contenders. But the importance of denying the 218 votes to McCarthy is due to a total disregard for core values, which we have watched play out.

For politicos what transpired today in multiple votes for a speaker was simply amazing, a truly surprising and historic series of ballots and maneuvers that warranted our attention.  I understand for McCarthy, who has maneuvered and dreamed and thirsted for the speaker’s gavel, this was a most embarrassing outcome. The lack of ability to persuade the necessary members to do his bidding must be extremely dispiriting. On a human level, it is a sad thing to see play out, as who doesn’t want to see the dreams of others fulfilled. But given the way that he plotted and cajoled to attain the top job in the House, there are many across the land who are pleased that his goal was not realized. After all, when one sells out so completely, and even if the goal is attained, what is there to truly applaud and be proud of?

The image of this baby on the House floor reminded me of why we fight for the proper policies in this land.

Incoming GOP House Speaker (Kevin McCarthy) Must Lower Hammer On George Santos, Show Nation Politics Must Stand With Values

In the several decades of following politics, I have never known of a story where lies so egregiously and grandiosely told and spun took place regarding a winning congressional candidate. Where in the private sector can lies be so wildly created about one’s resume and that employee not immediately be up for termination? Other than some fringe voters on Long Island who are now able to claim they are not a bigot because ‘I voted for George Santos, a gay man’ there is truly little reason that he should not be rejected by the GOP House caucus.

While we all know that some people in business and politics embellish a CV, it needs to be noted that Santos fabricated a MAJOR portion of his personal biography. While political conservatives like to say they are better than liberals, adhere to higher morals, and are far more interested in good government, they now have a major stage and a national audience to put those words into practice. I do not say that as a partisan, but rather as one who finds the lowering of the bar for our politics, which Santos has furthered, to be of deep concern. The incoming speaker of the House, presumably Kevin McCarty, along with the top GOP leadership must absolutely repudiate and scorn Santos, and push his outlandish behavior and legal issues onto the top of the agenda for the House Ethics Committee. As of this posting, the House Republican leadership has been absent from speaking to the nation about this national disgrace.

While my strong sentiment expressed above is what our political institutions in our country need, and the voters would like to see our politics return to, I admit the odds of that happening are slim to none. But lacking such public accountability by the GOP regarding Santos or taking the appropriate action means reporters and the public must continuously press this issue again and again. The reasons to continue stressing why Santos is not suited to sit in the House are clear for all to see.

After the Christmas holiday, Santos gave two interviews where he admitted never working directly for the financial firms Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, though he was not reluctant to strongly suggest that he had when asking for votes. He also told The New York Post that he didn’t graduate from any college or university, despite claiming he had degrees from Baruch College and New York University. One thing that Santos did want to stress, apart from being forced to fess up for his phenomenal lies, was his belief he had not committed any crimes and sure does wish to serve in Congress.

“I didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning. I’m embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my resume,” he told the Post, adding that “we do stupid things in life”. Well, at age 34, the voters and the general public have every right to think that doing the ‘stupid things in life’ ended in those crazy college days. Oh, yeah, right, well, not in George’s case. Voters expect their elected representatives to have at least some self-dignity. A major political party simply must demand its elected members conduct themselves with a higher degree of credibility.

The news reports about Santos kept rolling in over the holidays, which included the claims about his grandparents “surviving the Holocaust” as Ukrainian Jewish refugees from Belgium. He had stated they changed their surname but his tale was contradicted by sources including family trees compiled by genealogy websites which undermined his lie. It was laughable to learn that the Santos “family firm’ that supposedly managed $80 million in assets was initially registered at a gynecologist’s office in a Florida office park. Most dishonorable is how Santos even gives conflicting accounts of his mother’s death!

He had told voters of his family-owned real estate portfolio of 13 properties but in the interviews after Christmas admitted he was not a landlord. He acknowledged owing thousands in unpaid rent. But in so doing a larger question then begs to be answered. If his money shortage is such that he has not paid rent how then in 2022 was he able to lend $700,000 to his congressional campaign? Intentionally omitting or misrepresenting information on a congressional financial disclosure is considered a federal crime. There is no way that Santos will be allowed to skirt away from this issue and if the GOP does not think they have a stink bomb attached to their neck with this embarrassment, they are only deluding themselves. Republicans must openly and forthrightly face the mess in their ranks.

Santos seems determined to point out that he had not committed a crime anywhere in the world. That would seem an odd statement to make, however, had it not been for The New York Times reporting they uncovered Brazilian court records showing that he had been charged with fraud as a young man after he was caught writing checks with a stolen checkbook.

The new House speaker, most likely Kevin McCarthy, will set a tone by deciding how to handle George Santos. The nation is watching to see if yet another deepening of the political basement will be allowed to occur. If Santos is seated and faces only bad headlines, it will send a clarion message to all who lack an ability for honesty to know, they too, can gain public office by falsifying their credentials. If Santos is seated and treated with only a slap to his hands it will further demonstrate the shallowness and hypocrisy of the message conservatives continually press. That would be a bad outcome for the GOP which has floundered with its national image since 2016. Worse yet, for the nation, where a strong majority desires that our political compass be recalibrated.