Friday, July 8, 2011

Debt Ceiling Debate Misguided

There's no question our federal deficit -- and our debt -- need to be addressed. In the long term, our government has to get both of those things under control, both for the sake of our national economy and our standing in the rest of the world.

But in the short term, with our economic recovery slow and the latest job numbers showing no sign of improvement, focusing solely on deficits is problematic.

Never mind the fact that virtually every reputable economist argues that a reduction in spending makes a slow recovery worse. Never mind the silly debate over the debt ceiling -- which before now has never been controversial and might even violate the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Right now, with unemployment at 9.2 percent, only one thing should matter: jobs.

We need to stop people from losing their jobs -- in the private and public sector. We need to make sure those who have lost their jobs have a lifeline while they undertake the arduous task of finding another job. We need to train people for new jobs, especially if they're coming from industries that are no longer in demand.

Most importantly, we need to make sure there are jobs out there for the unemployed to take. We need to stop companies from purposefully refusing to hire the unemployed.

The non-partisan CBO estimates the stimulus passed in 2009 saved or created 3 million jobs -- which is to be lauded -- but the bill could've been so much larger and so much more effective. In the meantime, Congress shifted its focus to health care reform, Wall Street reform, the DREAM Act, the START treaty, Iraq, Afghanistan, the deficit, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell ... pretty much everything but jobs.

When Republicans took control of the House last November, they rode the electoral wave mostly because of the lack of jobs; a weak economy and high unemployment never favors the incumbent party. But Congressional Republicans have focused on everything but jobs: de-funding Planned Parenthood, restricting choice, repealing the Affordable Care Act, refusing to let tax rates rise on the wealthiest two percent.

And now, holding the economy hostage in debt ceiling negotiations.

Republicans want to keep tax rates where they are -- if not lower them even more -- and refuse to allow any deal that includes tax increases. They want Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the table, regardless of the fact that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. Depending on who you believe, the Obama administration might be willing to put Social Security on the table.

But that's a post for another time.

I mentioned before that in years past, raising the debt ceiling has never been an issue; in fact, the debt ceiling was raised five times during George W. Bush's two terms in office. Apparently, we can keep borrowing money when it comes to fighting needless wars and giving the rich tax breaks that stagnate the economy ... but the second we want to borrow money to provide health care and take care of the middle class, it's a problem.

There's also a potential conflict of interest for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the Majority Leader in the House, who may benefit financially if the country defaults on Aug. 2.

A recession is not the time to slash spending. Now is not the time to lay off teachers, police officers and firefighters. Now is not the time to punish seniors and the middle class for a recession caused by Wall Street and its handlers in Congress.

Now is the time to invest in job-creating programs, invest in infrastructure spending, which will provide jobs and strengthen this country's infrastructure for years to come.

The Republicans are playing with this country's economy -- not just in the debt ceiling debate, but by blocking numerous bills in Congress designed to create jobs -- because they know a poor economy will benefit them at the polls. They don't want the economy to get better, because the Democrats control the White House and the Senate.

And if you think the GOP would suddenly care once it got control of those branches back, then you're being naive.

Remember last month, when I quoted Keith Olbermann's point about the malfeasance of one political party and the timidity of the other? The debt ceiling debate is a perfect illustration of this; the Republicans are purposefully holding the American economy hostage, and we may see a Democratic administration giving in to the GOP's demands, and abandoning core Democrat principles, in order to prevent a default(when, really, all the President would have to do is invoke the 14th amendment and all of this would be moot).

The Republicans are playing with the middle class and seniors; they're playing with people's lives, and deliberately ignoring the unemployment crisis, thinking it will sweep the party back into power come November 2012. Electoral gains -- and massive contributions from the GOP's corporate benefactors (thank you, Citizens United) -- are the endgame here.

The only question is, what are we going to do about it?

Make yourself heard!

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