Seldom have we witnessed a more dishonest speech in prime time than that delivered by House Speaker John Boehner last night on the debt ceiling crisis. "The sad truth," he declared, "is that the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today. That is just not going to happen."
The sad truth is that statement is a bald lie, applied to a president who, far from wanting a "blank check," has endorsed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan for an unconscionable $2.7 trillion in over ten years from discretionary spending as ransom to Republican threats to blow up the economy by not raising the debt ceiling.
In a speech cobbling together stale conservative talking points, Boehner claimed to be "Speaker of the whole House," while talking for and to its lunatic right-wing fringe. In doing so, Boehner introduced Americans into the funhouse hall of distorted mirrors that is the current conservative delusion.
The "national debt," the Speaker tells us "has gotten so out of hand it has sparked a crisis without precedent in my lifetime or yours." With interest rates on American bonds near record lows, this is a crisis not recognized by investors across the world.
So where did this debt come from? No mention of the debts racked up by the Bush administration and Republican congresses with two unfunded wars, repeated tax cuts larded to benefit the top end, and a prescription drug bill that was written by the drug company lobby. No mention of the financial wilding by Wall Street that eventually blew up the economy, causing the worst recession since the Great Depression.
No instead, Boehner says the problem begins with President Obama and a "Washington spending binge," composed of the stimulus plan and the health care reform. But in reality, as Boehner knows, the recession – which lowered revenues and raised spending as workers lost jobs and started collecting unemployment and food stamps -- and the Bush wars and tax cuts are the biggest contributors to the deficit. Our broken health care system is the biggest contributor to long term debt projections. The stimulus plan added little -- too little -- to the deficits. And as the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office scores it, the health care reforms offer large deficit savings as the measures built in to cut waste and raise taxes kick in.
This ersatz crisis began when the Republican zealots in Congress decided to use the debt ceiling – a procedural oddity routinely passed in past years (18 times under Reagan alone) – to hold the economy hostage to force deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and domestic spending while opposing the slightest mention of closing tax loopholes, much less raising taxes on the rich. Yet Boehner claims the "crisis atmosphere" was created by the president. Even Orwell's Ministry of Truth designed to peddle disinformation would blush at that one.
But never fear, the Speaker reassures, "there is no stalemate in Congress. The House has passed a bill to raise the debt limit with bipartisan support. And this week, …we will pass another bill – one that was developed with the support of the bipartisan leadership of the US Senate," that the Speaker expects to pass the Senate.
Wouldn't you love to know what he is smoking? The "bipartisan" bill in the House – the brutal "Cut, Cap and Balance" act – got 240 votes, five of which were Democrats. As EJ Dionne points out, the opposition was more bipartisan than Boehner's majority, with nine Republicans joining 181 Democrats against. And it was defeated in the Senate. The Boehner two step that he will push through the House this week - again without Democratic support – is likely to fare no better in the Senate -- if it can get out of the House.
The President, Boehner said "can't take 'yes' for an answer." This risible comment from the leader of Republicans who have said no to the wrong-headed offer of $2.7 trillion in cuts in discretionary spending over 10 years (which will cut spending on education, the environment, food safety, affordable housing, cops on the beat and much more), plus a promise to set up a committee with extraordinary power to push cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in exchange for LOWERING top tax rates and closing loopholes.
Boehner rejects what can only be termed an abject and unacceptable surrender by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid because Republicans want only a six month extension of the debt limit, so they can play this game again prior to the 2012 election, and they oppose any consideration of increased tax revenues.
Utterly lost in this is the debate the country needs. Boehner says that cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits, slashing government purchases and laying off workers in a time of mass unemployment will somehow boost the economy. In fact, as Britain has shown, as states that have started deep layoffs have shown, austerity bites --cuts in government spending cost jobs. And with businesses lacking not confidence but customers, the recession will worsen.
What we need is a leader who will challenge this nonsense, lay out a serious program to put America back to work, and to make the investments and policy changes vital to rebuilding the country. We need a plan not simply to put people to work now, but a strategy to revive manufacturing while standing up to China and the mercantilist nations, capture a lead role in the clean energy revolution, and repair the carnage being done to our schools and universities. This – as the People's Budget by the Congressional Progressive Caucus has shown – can be achieved and paid for with progressive tax reforms and new priorities, starting with bringing our unfunded wars to a close.
Instead of an alternative that might help people understand how we get out of the mess that we are in, we get a capitulation. The president adopts the full conservative mantra about deficit reduction. The Senate Majority leader offers up deep cuts without any increased taxes. But even capitulation is not enough for the tea party zealots in the House who won’t let the Speaker accept a deal beyond his fondest dreams six weeks ago. So Boehner straightens his tie, furrows his brow, and comes before Americans to deliver an utterly shameless and dishonest speech. Americans, in need of work and hope, have seldom been so badly served.
Today, please join the Rebuild the Dream movement, Moveon.org, the Campaign for America's Future and citizens across the country to make your voice known. Go to your legislator’s local office or call the Washington office. Make the message simple. Lift the debt ceiling, protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Tell your legislator you will hold him or her accountable for any deal that exacts sacrifice from the poor and the elderly while exempting the rich and powerful.
The most striking aspect of this "negotiation" is how far removed both sides are from the position of the vast majority of Americans. Poll after poll makes clear, Americans in overwhelming numbers want Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid protected from cuts. Most Americans support raising taxes on the rich, on the big corporations, ending big oil subsidies, lifting the cap on payroll taxes for Social Security, taxing big banks for the mess they created. Americans want jobs and growth.
We need to build an independent movement to represent this majority against the money politics and ideological blinders that are crippling Washington.That's why CAF has made a big commitment to the American Dream Movement -- and why our October conference -- Take Back the American Dream -- will be devoted to planning strategy going forward. Join us.