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Battles in the Class War

Paul Krugman on the Fiscal Cliff deal:

The centrist fantasy of a Grand Bargain on the budget never had a chance. Even if some kind of bargain had supposedly been reached, key players would soon have reneged on the deal — probably the next time a Republican occupied the White House.

For the reality is that our two major political parties are engaged in a fierce struggle over the future shape of American society. Democrats want to preserve the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and add to them what every other advanced country has: a more or less universal guarantee of essential health care. Republicans want to roll all of that back, making room for drastically lower taxes on the wealthy. Yes, it’s essentially a class war.

Krugman argues, and I’m tending to agree with him, that the Fiscal Cliff deal was a victory for Democrats and Obama. After all, we actually saw Republicans vote for a tax increase on the rich! However, he worries (and we should too) that this victory may be setting the stage for a larger defeat in just a few weeks when it comes time to raise the debt limit again:

the G.O.P. retains the power to destroy, in particular by refusing to raise the debt limit — which could cause a financial crisis. And Republicans have made it clear that they plan to use their destructive power to extract major policy concessions.

Now, the president has said that he won’t negotiate on that basis, and rightly so. Threatening to hurt tens of millions of innocent victims unless you get your way — which is what the G.O.P. strategy boils down to — shouldn’t be treated as a legitimate political tactic.

I think this comes down to us. I realize that many people are worn out from the recent election, but if we can put enough pressure on Republicans maybe they won’t be so eager to resort to terrorist-like tactics.

UPDATE: Indeed, in the first closed-door meeting of Republicans in the new congress, Speaker John Boehner promised to fight Obama, doubling down on his threat to hold the nation hostage over raising the debt ceiling. “Without lifting the debt limit, the federal government would face a cataclysmic default on its already accrued obligations” — obligations such as two wars and Medicare Part D, which Republicans voted for while simultaneously cutting taxes.

Adam Zyglis
© Adam Zyglis

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7 Comments

  1. ptgoodman wrote:

    Why should Obama negotiate at all with the Republicans on raising the debt ceiling? They either vote to raise it–as they are required to do, or not. And if they choose not to raise the debt ceiling, then they should accept responsibility for the consequences. In addition, the Republicans are free to come up with a specific plan to cut spending any time they choose–and they must take responsibility for that as well. But they won’t come up with a specific plan for spending cuts, because they are cowards and they want someone else to take the heat for their unacceptable plans.

    Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink
  2. westomoon wrote:

    When Obama began saying he simply wouldn’t play the debt-ceiling game again, I became hopeful that he’s planning to give the 14th amendment an outing.

    After all, why should Congress be able to give itself the unique ability to run up bills and then decide they’re not going to pay them? Granted, you can see this same philosophy at work in the hideous personal finances of many eminent teabaggers, but at least their crashed personal credit ratings don’t ruin everyone else’s.

    George W Bush demonstrated that a President can make a criminal act into a national policy, and if the person he’s hired as White House Counsel is willing to state in writing that it’s legal, then no crime has been committed. Why couldn’t Barack Obama’s White House Counsel issue an opinion that the Constitution trumps the [nonsensical] law on the debt ceiling? I mean, the country got along fine without that law til it was passed in the 90′s.

    Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    In the long term, the public tends to forget who caused economic problems and just blame the reigning president in power. Thus people see a strong economy when Bush was president and a weak one when Obama is in the White House.

    I believe the Republicans believe this will continue, we can hope it doesn’t. The Republicans can destroy the economy and this would lead to the election of a Republican president in the next election.

    Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  4. Arthanyel wrote:

    I agree with Westomoon. I think Obama needs to play the 14th Amendment card and take the debt ceiling out of play.

    It would effectively throw to the SCOTUS the decision on the limits of Congress.

    Whether the “debt ceiling” is unconstitutional (or not) is the sideshow – technically, it is would NOT be unconstitutional to say the Congress needs to vote to approve additional borrowing or spending. That is after all the JOB of the Congress. But using such a rule and vote to refuse to pay the debts already incurred? At the point THAT happens they violate Section 4 of the 14th Amendment.

    The conservatives on the Court would be very leery of ruling that the Congress can just pass a law that is technically Constitutional but in implementation can be used to violate the Constitution. They would never want to give that power to the Congress – especially right now when they could easily lose the House in 2014. And the liberals will side with the President (and also the side of basic intelligence).

    So I agree – go for the 14th Amendment challenge. Make the SCOTUS rule. You always have the option to issue a few $1T coins to get around the debt ceiling if the SCOTUS rules against you.

    Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  5. Iron Knee wrote:

    If you have any links on how a 14th amendment would work, please post them. This is interesting.

    Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  6. ThatGuy wrote:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/05/our-national-debt-shall-not-be-questioned-the-constitution-says/238269/#

    Here’s one of the 14th Amendment arguments I’ve come across. Interesting bit of history attached to it.

    Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  7. Iron Knee wrote:

    Thanks, ThatGuy. I also like the previous article from the same person, with the text of a proposed speech that Obama should give if he goes this route. However, I would make it even stronger.

    For example, in the last paragraph where he says “But as long as I remain president, the national debt of the United States shall not be questioned.” Instead, I would say something like “… the promise of the United States to repay its debts shall not be questioned, and Congress cannot blithely refused to pay for things whose purchase they themselves approved of. If Congress wants to reduce government spending, they can and must revise those laws, which they passed, that authorized that spending in the first place.”

    Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink