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Charlie Vignola: Lessons from debt-ceiling debate, fallout

Democratic Voices

Posted: August 9, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 9, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

America has emerged bruised, bloodied and officially downgraded from its latest super-crisis, this one completely manufactured by a small band of radical Republicans in order to extort — yes, that’s the accurate term, look it up — trillions of dollars in spending cuts they never could’ve achieved through normal legislative means.

Given the unthinkable economic devastation our country now faces for no good reason whatsoever, it’s worth looking back at the events of the last few weeks to see what lessons we can learn.

Lesson 1: It’s now perfectly acceptable to hold the debt ceiling hostage to get what you want.
These tea party “patriots” have set an ominous precedent by turning what has always been a run-of-the-mill procedural vote into a weapon of mass destruction. As a result, in the future, either political party can now demand something from their partisan wish list and hold America’s credit rating hostage in order to get it.

Don’t worry, Republicans. Sooner or later, it’ll be a Republican president with a Democratic majority in the House and/or the Senate. And if the Democrats suddenly decide they’re going to stand on their principles and demand a single-payer health care system in exchange for raising the debt ceiling — too late, tea party. You’ve already opened Pandora’s Box.

Lesson 2: Shotgun politics now rule Washington.
You’ve heard of a “shotgun wedding?” Welcome to the era of “shotgun politics.”

Once again, an emboldened Republican Party has gotten its way through threats and intimidation rather than compromise and consensus. This has become its go-to strategy.

In the Senate, Republicans have wildly abused the filibuster, making it nearly impossible to get anything done without a 60-vote supermajority.

Up until very recently, a simple majority was enough to get legislation passed in the Senate, but once the Republicans lost their majority in 2006, they started filibustering at a historically unprecedented rate, transforming the Senate into a model of dysfunction.

In December 2010, right before Christmas, the Republicans held unemployment benefits hostage for beleaguered Americans unless the Bush tax cuts for the very richest were extended. That little holiday gift for the wealthy added $858 billion dollars to the national debt — you know, that thing Republicans are so concerned about.

Clearly, Republicans are born without the irony gene.

This past April, the Republicans threatened to shut down the entire U.S. government unless they extracted billions of dollars in spending cuts. Once again, they used coercion rather than legislation to get what they want — and why not? It’s quicker and requires less compromise.

Finally, this July, they had the cajones to hold the debt ceiling itself hostage for the first time in U.S. history, demanding trillions more dollars in spending cuts.

Worse, they pulled this stunt in the middle of an economy that’s on life support, where just a little more bad news — like, say, the U.S. losing its credit rating, leading to higher interest rates for everyone and a possible domino effect through the world’s economy — could plunge us right back into recession.

In short, you don’t need to be diplomatic when you’ve got a shotgun.

Lesson 3: Excessive spending only counts during Democratic administrations.
This is why the tea party is ultimately full of something that rhymes with “spit.”

When George W. Bush came into office, he inherited a surplus from President Clinton. Now, conservative flacks will try to tell you that the Clinton surpluses were an illusion — you know, like global warming — but according to Factcheck.org, Clinton ran surpluses in 1998, 1999 and 2000 (the 2000 surplus was $86.4 billion).

Future surpluses were projected based on Bush keeping the Clinton tax rates intact — which he didn’t.

When Bush became president in 2001, the national debt was $5.73 trillion, and when he left office in January 2009 — after two unfunded wars, an unfunded Medicare prescription-drug benefit and unfunded tax cuts for the rich — the national debt was $10.7 trillion.

Basically, Bush doubled the national debt — and this was in a supposedly good economy, not the crippling recession that Obama inherited.

Yeah, I know, conservatives are sick of hearing that Obama inherited the bad economy from Bush. Well, tough toenails. He did. It’s a fact. And the reason it bothers you is because you have a guilty conscience.

My point is that for the entirety of the Bush administration, we barely heard a peep out of these fiscal hawks about the debt, which reached double digits under Bush.

But the moment a Democrat is elected president? The fiscal hawks become Chicken Littles: The sky is falling!

Overnight, nothing is more important than deep spending cuts — nothing, that is, except for cutting taxes on the rich, protecting tax loopholes for corporations and making sure Obama is a one-term president.

In short, the timing of the tea party’s rise and its fanatical concern over the national debt is more than a little suspicious, so I reserve the right to think the group is full of self-serving opportunists cloaking their partisan agenda in sanctimonious rhetoric.

Lesson 4: Elections matter.
This self-inflicted debt-ceiling crisis — which has already resulted in the catastrophic downgrading of America’s credit rating for the first time in history, with all the terrifying consequences that portends — never would’ve happened if the tea party extremists hadn’t swept into office in the fall of 2010. And that was a development that was entirely preventable.

If you’re a Democrat, and you didn’t vote in the midterm election because you didn’t think your vote could have made a difference, now you know better.

And if you’re a Republican and you voted for the tea party? Then, for all of our sakes, I pray you’ve learned your lesson about what happens when ideology trumps reality.

Charlie Vignola is a former College Republican turned liberal Democrat. He lives in Fair Oaks Ranch, works in the motion picture industry and loves his wife and kids.

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