Friday, November 1, 2013

Stopping Government by Extortion


ex·tor·tion  [ik st√°wrsh'n ]
getting something by force: the acquisition of something through the use of force or threats

NYT op-ed columnist Paul Krugman had this humorous take on the nature of extortion and how it drove the latest budget and debt ceiling negotiations.
So you have this neighbor who has been making your life hell. First he tied you up with a spurious lawsuit; you’re both suffering from huge legal bills. Then he threatened bodily harm to your family. Now, however, he says he’s willing to compromise: He’ll call off the lawsuit, which is to his advantage as well as yours. But in return you must give him your car. Oh, and he’ll stop threatening your family — but only for a week, after which the threats will resume. 
Not much of an offer, is it? But here’s the kicker: Your neighbor’s relatives, who have been egging him on, are furious that he didn’t also demand that you kill your dog.   
And now you understand the current state of budget negotiations.
Anybody who doesn’t see the similarity to the Tea Party tactics, threatening the nation with default if we didn’t comply with their demands just isn’t paying attention.  It is easy to dwell on which side’s position we may think is right.  Important as that is, it pales next to the Tea Party’s use of extortion to get what they couldn’t attain through the democratic process.  This is unforgivable and must be stopped in the future! 

Let’s be clear.  As a liberal, I am strongly opposed to Tea Party political positions.  But I ask the reader to believe me when I say that if a liberal group with positions I agreed with used the same extortion tactics, I would condemn them just as strongly. 

Most economists agree that if the US had gone into default, the results would have been catastrophic.   But the President in not negotiating with the Tea party rightly saw that preserving our democratic process was even more important that keeping us from going into default if we were forced under duress to choose one or the other. 

So under the terms of the last agreement, we now have new budget and debt ceiling deadlines.  Will the extortion card be played once again?  The Congressional leadership says no, especially with the Republican brand taking a beating according to polls like this one.   

But interviews with Tea Party stalwarts after the shutdown and debt ceiling crises were postponed show that they remain just as defiant as ever.  What comes across is not that they were sorry for the tactics they used; they are simply sorry that they lost!  What crazy things will Ted Cruz do next time?  It’s not a pleasant thought! 

But there is a way out of this mess!  It is something called the McConnell Provision originally proposed by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell back in 2011.
The McConnell Provision received broad bipartisan support last year. In fact, it was one of those rare policy proposals that received support from both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times editorial boards. 
And for good reason. Extension of the McConnell Provision would lift the periodic threat of default from the U.S. economy and remove politics from future debt limit debates, while preserving Congress’ essential role in spending, revenue and borrowing decisions.

But we would be deluding ourselves if we think this will be an easy sell for Republicans, especially those like McConnell himself who are facing primary challenges from the Tea Party. 

The only hope is that saner heads in the Republican Party will decide they don’t want to go through more beatings that will further erode their approval ratings if they try stunts like this again.  But you truly never know with the Tea Party who may well in their perverse logic subscribe to the mindset that The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!