Street Corner Soapbox: Game of Chicken with Debt Ceiling

Categories:      News & Politics    Opinion
Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 at 12:01 AM
Street Corner Soapbox: Game of Chicken with Debt Ceiling by Jay Stevens
A. Conaway

Erie’s House Representative, Mike Kelly, made a name for himself during the recent debt crisis brouhaha in Congress by waiving a sign, “Vote like a champion,” and giving a rousing locker-room speech during a meeting with other legislators in support of the Boehner plan – a compromise bill that many GOPers did not support.

“Put on your helmet,” Kelly is alleged to have said, “buckle your chinstrap, and knock the shit out of them.”

Which, frankly, is no way to talk about your constituents.

Since 1917, Congress has had the power to raise the nation’s limit for how much the government can borrow.

Many experts see it as anachronistic and lobby for its repeal. After all, Congress already votes and approves the government budgets that require the increased borrowing; why throw in the extra legislative step? And the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling are catastrophic: the country would default on its debt obligations, its credit rating would be trashed and interest rates spiked, and funds for government projects and payrolls would vanish. In an economy already suffering from widespread joblessness and consumer trepidation, not allowing the country to pay its debts would be the proverbial stake through the heart.

That the Republican Congress decided to play chicken with the nation’s economic well-being is not new.

President Obama as a Senator in 2006 voted against raising the debt ceiling, then decrying the nation’s profligate spending. What’s different today is that Republicans seemed serious about stiffing the nation’s creditors over a budget that already passed Congress. Some of the more delusional in the caucus, including our junior Senator, Pat Toomey, actually wanted to shake the ant farm, to deny the government its funds and see what would happen. In short, there was real concern that Congress wouldn’t raise the debt ceiling.

Not that the compromise was worth the economic near-Armageddon. The cuts in future spending in the passed debt-ceiling measure come nowhere near to righting the deficit. To do that, we’d have to seriously scale back all government spending – including defense – and raise revenues by upping taxes, neither of which the GOP caucus is willing to do, a strategy as practical for fixing our budgetary woes as brewing a potion made of powdered unicorn horn. Of course, now is the worst time to talk about cutting spending and raising taxes, what with unemployment in the double-digits. Sweeping cuts to the government payroll would only add more bodies to the pile and send shockwaves through an already moribund economy.

Worst of all, the debt crisis only encouraged the GOP. Even now Republicans have essentially shut down the FAA, sending thousands of workers home and halting a number of airport construction projects to improve safety and efficiency of air travel. Later this fall, they’ll do it again, threatening government shutdown over an appropriations bill, and again over the recommendations of an entitlement reform committee, and again over tax reform. And again and again.

The crisis Mike Kelly helped create – and promises to repeat – threatens our nation’s financial security. Our security. When Kelly talks about fighting, it’s our lips he’s bloodying. Us, the ordinary Erie folks scrapping for work and fretting over bills. Why deepen the mess we’re in?

Put away the helmet, Mike. This is not a game. 

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