• Government Shutdowns, Debt Ceilings, Political Intransigence And You.

    Yesterday's government shutdown is the end result of what happens when one group of politicians play a game of chicken with a telephone pole. Things tend to get messy real quick and in this case, the engine of government was the first to go.

    In the vigorous pursuit to defund what very well could be the stepping stones towards universal healthcare in the U.S., 30 caucus members representing the GOP's "tea party" faction in the House saw fit to double down on the rhetoric and attempt to push through a measure to delay and otherwise attempt to strangle the Affordable Care Act in its crib - something that the Senate predictably rejected.

    Which brings us to where we are today, with national parks closed, most veterans services shut down and hundreds of thousands of government workers either furloughed or working without pay as essential employees. The Tea Party contingent are doing a remarkable job of showing the people that government does not work...by making sure it doesn't work.

    At this point, you have to feel for House Speaker John Boehner. If he tells the Teabaggers to go forth and engage in a vigorous round of auto-fornication by passing a "clean" continuing resolution, he risks the likelihood of losing the remaining shreds of his authority and his seat to a more Teabagger-friendly Republican, most likely wannabe House Speaker and current Tea Party ringleader Ted Cruz. After all, he's demonstrated time and again that he's the one calling the shots.

    If he decides to play to the baser instincts of the Teabaggers and maintain the congressional stalemate, the shutdown continues. Too bad neither the Senate nor the president has any intention of capitulating to GOP demands. That means piecemeal solutions like reopening parts of government here and there are out of the question. Either way it goes, the orange one comes out looking like a complete chump.

    An increasing number of moderate Republicans now fear having their legislative asses handed to them by a beyond-pissed electorate, which explains why folks like Michael Grimm and 11 other House Republicans have indicated their support for a "clean" CR - one that's stripped of the poison-pill provision that hamstrings ACA funding. The longer this goes on, the worse the pain gets for the GOP in general.

    Meanwhile, the American people have to put up with some of the inconveniences of a government gone fishing:

    • All of America's national parks and monuments are now closed. So don't bother packing your bags for that trip to Yosemite National Park.
    • Don't bother sending in your application for a small business loan or loan guarantee, either. The government's not taking those while the shutdown's in effect.
    • If you're a veteran with questions about your benefits, good luck. No one's around to answer your questions.
    • The National Institutes of Health is also shuttered for the duration of the shutdown, so no further research into life-threatening diseases will be conducted and ongoing clinical trials are closed to new patients.
    • Government workers tasked with border patrol, food inspection and air traffic control will work through the shutdown sans pay. Hundreds of thousands of other non-essential govt. workers are now on furlough. Figuring out how to pay the house note is going to be a bitch, but at least they won't have to worry about their car notes.
    • No more non-essential inspections of drinking water systems and chemical facilities by the EPA until further notice. 
    • Some services for seniors and young children may run out of money in the event of an extended shutdown.
    • Even the president isn't immune to the effects of the shutdown. Teabaggers are no doubt pleased that he has to cut his Asia "vacation" short to tend to matters closer to home.

    But it's not the shutdown that should have people worried. The debt ceiling deadline is just 15 days away and unless there's a bump in the $17.5 trillion debt limit, the ramifications could very well kick the legs out of the country's current attempts at economic recovery. Without a debt ceiling increase, the U.S. government loses its ability to borrow and defaults on some of its debts, which could set off a chain of events that could eventually lead to sky-high interest rates, frozen credit and investors backing away from U.S. currency and assets as quickly as possible.

    Having the government lurch from crisis to manufactured crisis is precisely what the GOP quack doctors prescribed in the first place. A close look at the "Williamsburg Accord" lays out the current stratagem to reorient the national budget towards the general direction of the Ryan Plan, by any means necessary:

    In January, demoralized House Republicans retreated to Williamsburg, Virginia, to plot out their legislative strategy for President Obama’s second term. Conservatives were angry that their leaders had been unable to stop the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on high incomes, and sought assurances from their leaders that no further compromises would be forthcoming. The agreement that followed, which Republicans called “The Williamsburg Accord,” received obsessive coverage in the conservative media but scant attention in the mainstream press. (The phrase “Williamsburg Accord” has appeared once in the Washington Post and not at all in the New York Times.) But the decision House Republicans made in January has set the party on the course it has followed since.

    If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.

    Heritage Action for America's Michael Needham drove home the push for a "balanced budget" through an open letter to conservative congressmen:

    Dear Congressman,

    In the coming months, you will face tremendous pressure to accept a deal to raise our nation’s debt ceiling. Conservatives around the country will insist the debt ceiling not be raised unless our nation gets on a path to a balanced budget within 10 years and stays balanced. This is not an arbitrary marker; rather, it is the marker laid out by the entire House Republican Conference in what has become known as the Williamsburg Accord.

    Conservatives cannot enter into the debt ceiling debate without understanding the promise of the Williamsburg Accord.

    On January 18, four current and former chairmen of the Republican Study Committee announced an agreement to re-sequence the 2013 fiscal fights. In exchange for holding the line on the sequester and producing a budget that balanced in ten years, conservatives agreed to postpone the debt ceiling debate for several months. In turn, the debate on the debt ceiling would revolve around enacting the policies that put the federal budget on the path to 10-year balance.

    A few days later, Speaker Boehner declared, “It’s time for us to come to a plan that will in fact balance the budget over the next 10 years.” He said it was the GOP’s “commitment to the American people.”

    As the proverbial ink dried on the Williamsburg Accord, the House Republican Conference marched in unison. Lawmakers focused on laying the groundwork to enact the policies necessary to achieve a 10-year balance, as scored by the Congressional Budget Office, and attach them to any future increases in the debt ceiling.

    At the same time, the National Republican Congressional Committee quietly poll-tested the message in key districts. Balancing the budget was a winning political argument in swing districts. The NRCC poll found that 45 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents and 76 percent of Republicans thought balancing the federal budget would “significantly increase economic growth and create millions of American jobs.”

    Good policy is good politics, and we know from recent history a coherent, principled message on the debt ceiling can shift public opinion. Before landing on the Budget Control Act in August 2011, Republicans consistently said America had a spending problem and spending reductions must accompany any increase in the debt ceiling.

    Not surprisingly, the accepted narrative of that showdown is wrong. Many forget Republicans were winning the generic congressional vote the entire month of July. President Obama’s disapproval rating stood at 52% by the end of August. In September, Mitt Romney was leading in head-to-head polling.

    The path to balance is the path to victory.

    Conservatives should not raise our nation’s statutory debt limit unless Congress passes and the President signs into law real reforms and immediate spending reductions that place America on a path to balance within 10 years without raising taxes and keeping the budget in balance.

    Regardless of how many concessions the Democrats offer to conservatives, the GOP in its current state is bound to go with the Assad option and obliterate everything within reach, just because. Meanwhile, the rest of the nation's getting pretty sick of playing hostages to a bunch of legislative psychotics.