Sunday, October 13, 2013

D.C. and N.M.

We're witnessing a pretty sad spectacle in Washington.

At its center, John Boehner lacks two oft-mentioned parts of the male anatomy. He knows well enough that defaulting on national financial obligations will do us serious harm, possibly for a very long time. He has assured other moderate Republicans he won't let that happen. But he's frightened of the Koch Brothers and the Club for Growth and other extremists prepared to challenge him in his next Republican primary. He's seen several moderate Republicans purged from the Senate and House by their own party.

Many callers to “Speak Up, Las Cruces!” urge President Obama to compromise, delaying the Affordable Care Act for a year and/or making other concessions.

I don't agree.

We have to pay our debts. They are legal obligations, duly approved by Congress where necessary. If we fail ? Our credit rating declines, interest rates rise for all of us, markets fall, and around the world, where everyone's accustomed to say or think “sound as the dollar,” folks grow nervous.

Why isn't President Obama as responsible for this situation as Ted Cruz and the screamers?

Imagine you and I have a partnership or business. We've agreed on many things, the business is functioning with the usual ups and downs, and we have fixed obligations – mortgage on or rent for our office, loans to repay on our trucks and machinery, and maybe subcontractors to pay every month. We've agreed to these obligations. All checks must be co-signed by the two of us.

Suppose suddenly I tell you that I won't sign any more checks unless my share of the profits rises from 50% to 70%, we hire my son as Treasurer, and we switch from one subcontractor to another. Fair? No. Legal? Sure, until and unless you go through a lengthy legal process and succeed in court, by which time our business no longer exists and we've both paid too much to lawyers.

So I shout, “Why don't you negotiate?” as Tea Party folks shout to Obama.

If you do negotiate, you've just bought another such conflict next month, and each month thereafter when I want something.

It's not about Obamacare. That program will or won't succeed. It was approved by the government, it's being implemented, and opinions vary as to its probable level of success.

It's about maintaining some semblance of ability to function as a democracy.

There are orderly ways to decide whether or not to pass laws – or rescind them. There are legal but somewhat questionable tools like filibusters (which have been overused recently) and refusing to bring up matters for a vote. Moderate Republican Congressmen say that if Boehner had allowed a straight vote on keeping the government open, enough of them would have voted with Democrats to pass it. What the Far Right is doing is legal (although the 14th Amendment's prohibition against questioning the validity of the public debt might trump their cards), but unwise.

In the long run, such tactics:
    • quite possibly destroy the Republican Party;
    • harm the poor and middle class by increasing interest rates, delaying social security checks and other needed help, and pushing the economy back down into the gutter;
    • increase tenfold the uncertainty that tends to discourage business expansion or the starting of new businesses; and
    • add to the doubts most folks have that our democracy can actually continue much longer.
Doesn't matter to the Koch Brothers. If government can't function, it can't make or enforce environmental and other regulations they find annoying. Higher interest rates shouldn't bother them, since it's you and I who may have to borrow for our next home or vehicle. They won't.

They also don't live in New Mexico. Steve Pearce should think long and hard about the fact that New Mexico will pay more than its share of the bill for the havoc he and his pals are wreaking.

Las Cruces, more than most U.S. towns, has an economy in which the military, the federal judiciary, Homeland Security, Whites Sands National Monument, the BLM, and numerous other federal entities play a huge role. Las Cruces has a relatively high percentage of retired folks – many on military or other federal pensions, others on social securrity. New Mexico has more poor children who need the federal help they get. We're also on the border: whether you focus on the need for such protection as those folks in the green and white trucks offer or on the need for all of those southern New Mexico residents in the trucks to get paid, the border matters too.

Of course, it won't happen. I don't think there's a high enough percentage of crazy folks in Congress yet. There'll be a short-term extension to facilitate some face-saving “negotiation”, and maybe they'll toss the medical device tax off the tailgate of Obamacare.

It's already costing us money. (Note the higher discounts required on new Treasury Bonds due for payment after October 17, the pervasive uncertainty intimidating businesses, and the hit our local economy is taken from federal and tourist and other dollars not being spent.)

And perhaps some day, particularly if the right-wing can gerrymander a few more absolutely safe districts in a few more states and legislate clever new ways to minimize the voting turnout among poor people, we'll be in even more trouble.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 13 October.
This morning I wonder if it isn't a little too optimistic.
I recall intending to add some further analysis of what's going on in Washington; but there's a light breeze across the desert, the grey hummingbird is giving a dance performance, yellow butterflies are exploring some pink and white blossoms, and the baby digging snake has narrowly escaped the cat's claws and hidden under a flower pot.]

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