Hello, America. About two weeks ago, I left the United States on a vacation abroad, and when I did so, it was generally assumed that some sort of "deal" or "grand bargain" or "bipartisan dry-hump" might be realized through the ongoing debt-ceiling negotiations. I strove to make my time off as leisurely and internet-free as possible, but like many people, I was pretty invested in this ongoing news story, and checked in each day to learn that there had been no new progress, no agreement and no deal. And now that I'm back, we've seen in the past 24 hours that the impasse on a debt ceiling deal is as insurmountable as ever.
And to that, I say: fantastic! Fie on a "debt ceiling deal!" A pox on "debt ceiling negotiations." Every day without a debt ceiling deal is like a day with sunshine -- or, rather, for heat-submerged East Coasters, it's like a day without sunshine. The failure of President Barack Obama, Speaker John Boehner, Senate leader Harry Reid, and all of the affiliated hangers-on and secondary characters to arrive at some sort agreement to make cuts/add revenue is a great net result for America and for all American citizens. I hope there is never a "debt ceiling deal," and so should you.
Right about now, you may be forming some objections to this. "But, Jason," you may be thinking, "that's just irresponsible to say. Without a debt ceiling deal, we will default on our obligations, and this will touch off a daisy chain of global economic destruction. The only way to prevent that is to hope that all of these people start acting like adults and make a deal." Believe me, I understand your concerns. But they're based on many months of the media, wearing away your capacity for logic with day after day of misallocated journalistic resources.
So, it's time for a little bit of cult deprogramming. The failure to reach a debt ceiling deal will not result in a default. It's the failure to raise the debt ceiling that will do that. And the debt ceiling deal is not the way to ensuring that the debt ceiling gets raised. The ongoing negotiations are the primary impediment to the debt ceiling being raised. The best and most effective way of ending the uncertainty and the worry that economic turmoil is poised to unleash itself at any moment is to immediately call an end to the debt ceiling negotiations.
Let me repeat that: The best and most effective way of ending the uncertainty and the worry that economic turmoil is poised to unleash itself at any moment is to immediately call an end to the debt ceiling negotiations.
(Then, Congress can raise the debt ceiling as it's done hundreds of times in the past already. If you're still confused about how Congress will do this, please click here.)
There is, of course, a side benefit to ending the negotiations: we can stop pretending that they are anything other than a farcical political dumbshow. The very idea that something substantive is being discussed is an insult to anyone with a functioning brain or the means to transform sunlight into energy through photosynthesis. Let's recall that the basic GOP position is that they want massive spending cuts. The basic Democratic position is that those cuts cannot come at the expense of entitlements.
But then, the president put forward a plan that put those entitlements on the chopping block, and went deeper into cutting discretionary spending than any Republican plan had thus far proposed. And that's where everything went HAYWIRE! The GOP refused to declare what would have been one of the largest political victories for a party out of power in recent memory. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a plan to give the president a blank check to do whatever he wanted, which confused everyone, because previously, his argument was against such blank checks. And since then, each side has behaved nonsensically. As Jon Stewart pointed out last night, in the past few days "both sides switched, everybody caved and no one agreed."
It's getting really dadaesque, up in the halls of power, with the president offering up the most GOP-friendly deal yet, Boehner rejecting a deal from Reid for being too much like the deal he wants in the first place and everyone hurling prime-time speeches at each other. (Boehner says that the president won't get any more "blank checks," but that was precisely what Mitch McConnell was offering before I left on vacation!) What kind of negotiations get bogged down when everyone accedes to everyone else's demands? The answer, of course, is "painfully stupid and pointless ones." The best option is to just raise the debt ceiling -- which just honors the obligations these honorable men and women mutually agreed to in the legislative commitments each side of the aisle has made over the past few years.
Of course, depending on how you feel about the current state of structural government debt and/or the need for new revenue, you may be of the mind that the government needs to make substantial spending cuts, or substantial tax increases, or substantial entitlement reform, or substantial tax reform. Here's the good news! If we raised the debt ceiling today, right this very minute, it wouldn't prevent any of these lawmakers from pursuing their "grand bargains," if that's really what they want to do. Obama and Boehner and Reid and Pelosi and McConnell can cut spending, or means-test Medicare, or raise the retirement age to 80 or agree to turn the Pentagon into a popsicle stand. By God, they could "grand bargain" with one another from now until the end of days. The only difference between what they are proposing to do and what I am insisting they do instead is that my way prevents a massive economic crisis.
Of course, the main problem is that no one who is party to the negotiations actually wants there to be a deal anyway. This whole sorry saga in out lives is often characterized in the media as a "hostage crisis," but it resembles no hostage crisis I've ever seen. For starters, there's no real crisis! The threat of default has always been an empty one -- it's widely known that Wall Street warned the House GOP on the dangers of not raising the debt ceiling, and it's just as widely known that Wall Street has been assured that default won't happen.
Andrew Leonard, sizing up Wall Street's quietude on the whole matter, put it best: "Everyone thinks that the inevitable panic will result in a deal, but if there's going to be a deal, there's no need to panic."
Beyond that, this whole "hostage crisis" is unique in that it's basically one in which the hostage taker hands the gun to the captives and insists that they switch positions. Which doesn't make sense, unless the entire "debt ceiling debate" is about politics. Which, of course, it is.
Of course, there is a danger in dicking around for too long. As Felix Salmon worries, "It’s increasingly looking like the best-case scenario is that America simply loses its triple-A credit rating — something which in and of itself will be pointless, dangerous, unnecessarily expensive and potentially catastrophic. The worst-case scenario, of course, is an outright default."
And to go back to Andrew Leonard, it's important to remember that we currently are working in a bubble of "paradoxical equillibrium," but at some point, something practical has to happen. He wrote, "It will take a few days for the competing plans to take final form and get voted on. If the House rejects Reid's plan and the Senate rejects Boehner's plan we'll be that much closer to the deadline and still have no deal. Today, the market yawns. Tomorrow?"
But do you see what the impediment is here? It's not the lack of a deal in the debt ceiling negotiations -- it's the negotiations themselves! The solution is to immediately bring these negotiations to a halt. (From there, they can raise the debt ceiling, and recommence "grand bargaining" in a threat-free environment ... or even do something about unemployment! Remember the massive unemployment crisis?)
Unfortunately for all of us, that's not likely to happen as long as continuing the political theater might be beneficial to someone's re-election hopes. Right now, the conventional wisdom holds that the advantage switches back to the White House, after Obama's call for citizens to contact their congresscritter and ask for a "balanced" solution crashed websites. As far as spectacle goes, that was pretty powerful. But if we don't end these faux-negotiations now, then these faux-negotiations will become standard operating procedure, forever.
But honestly, America, if you want to deliver the right message to your representative, you need to call them up, repeatedly, and make this simple demand: "Raise the damn debt ceiling."