The Press Evinces Soft Bigotry Against Republicans─By Not Expecting Them to Govern

A news item caught my eye Thursday, but it seems to have passed through the news cycle largely unnoticed: the Senate approved, by a straight party-line vote of 60-39, the annual increase in the debt ceiling. Normally a party-line vote indicates that there is some sort of stark ideological dispute. So if you don't know what the debt-ceiling-limit increase is, you might assume it's something along those line─analogous to tax cuts, say, or Social Security privatization.

You would be wrong. Raising the debt limit is merely a technical necessity. If the federal government is spending more than it is taking in, Congress must authorize it to sell Treasury bonds to cover the difference. So, what, exactly were Republicans voting for then? The Wall Street Journal explains:

A vote to increase the debt ceiling is politically difficult but is largely symbolic. There is little chance Congress would allow the government to breach its debt limit. If there were to occur, the ramifications for the financial markets and the U.S. fiscal position could be disastrous.

In other words, Republicans in the Senate cast a vote that, if a few Democrats unexpectedly joined them, or were Scott Brown already seated, would have wreaked havoc on the entire global economy.

Where were the howls of indignation from pro-business institutions? Chalk it up to the soft bigotry of low expectations. Republicans are assumed to be so frivolous in their approach to governing that it isn't worth pretending that they mean what they say. There go the Republicans, just stoking a global economic collapse againso what else is new?─goes the thinking in Washington.

Notwithstanding that House Republicans' holding up the 2008 bank bailout actually did cause major drops in the stock market, no one thinks the Republicans actually intend to impoverish millions, if not billions, of people with their budget brinksmanship. It's just a statement of principles─I'm so opposed to this deficit that I voted against even allowing it!

"It's a political message," explains Sarah Binder, a Congress expert at the Brookings Institution. "If you kill the debt-ceiling increase it's a fundamental economic debacle." But, she cautions, "Just because it has never happened does it mean there couldn't be a minority party that pushes its luck and does."

Pointing out the absurdity of the Republicans' actions is not an ideological point. One can legitimately believe in deficit reduction and propose legitimate measures to reduce it, as Republica Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of Congress's few true ideologues did. Once you lose that battle, because you lost the last two elections, taking the entire economy hostage is not the behavior of an adult who takes seriously his or her responsibility to help govern the world's super-power.

Republicans cannot credibly claim to have done everything possible to prevent the need for increasing the debt ceiling. These debts were not just invented last year. Coburn's proposal would have gutted programs favored by Democrats in order to freeze the deficit at its already bloated level that was arrived at by years of Republican rule. One can hardly be surprised that the Democrats see no reason to support that.

Under President Bush, congressional Republicans voted for two unfunded tax cuts, two unfunded wars, and an unfunded prescription-drug benefit. Where were their budget principles then? And what is their legitimate proposal for deficit reduction now? Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, leading the House GOP caucus's question-and-answer session with President Obama, pushed for across-the-board tax cuts. Supporting that, and deficit reduction, is as Obama noted, "inconsistent."

It's hard to say what is scarier: is it Republicans' voting against raising the debt limit when it must be done, whether we like the choices that got us there or not? Or is it the fact that politically─and it is politics, not even a real ideology, that is their motivation─it is working on the intellectually incoherent American public?

The Press Evinces Soft Bigotry Against Republicans─By Not Expecting Them to Govern | News