Tea party-led Republicans in Congress put a gun to their own heads and demanded that President Obama give them everything they want, or else. And when congressional Democrats snickered, they snarled, "What are you laughing at? You're next!"
The wacky tea party plan to force the Obama administration into delaying or scuttling full implementation of the healthcare law passed in 2010 by threatening to close down the government didn't work. It seems that hidden way down deep in the House Republican Conference are a few leaders who can still count votes and aren't anxious for their party to commit ritual suicide.
So now the tea party is saying, "Okay we won't threaten to shut down the U.S. government and all its services. Instead, we'll put a gun to our head again to force Democrats to give us what we want or we'll let the United States of America default on its debts."
What they're talking about now is the federal debt ceiling. Republican talking points try to argue that the debt ceiling is an instrument for cutting out-of-control spending and decreasing the "debt burden." That is complete BS. The Government Accountability Office tells us the debt ceiling is a "limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred." The debt ceiling is not a spending issue. It's a 'paying our bills' issue. Congress already spent the money when they funded the federal government for Fiscal Year 2013, ending September 30th.
As far as funding for Fiscal Year 2014, beginning October 1st, when we hear members of Congress talk about how President Obama needs to be forced to cut out-of-control government spending, we should reread Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution of the United States:
"All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills."
In other words, President Obama doesn't get a vote on how much the government spends every year. Congress is supposed to make that decision in 12 annual appropriations bills that fund every federal agency, function and service. The president's responsibility is to spend the money the way Congress directs.
The debt ceiling has been around since 1917, when Congress instituted a statutory debt limit in the Second Liberty Bond Act. The legislation set limits on the aggregate amount of debt that could be accumulated through individual categories, such as Treasury Bonds and T-bills. In 1939, Congress instituted the first limit on total accumulated debt over all kinds of instruments.
It's been used for political leverage several times over the years, but never anything like the current scrum. In fact, increasing the debt ceiling enough to allow the country's bills to be paid had become a rather routine fiscal action until President Obama took office. In 2011 and this year, it's been transformed into the 10th Holy Crusade through a combination of ideological self-absorption and political opportunism.
The real cause for concern is that the nation has to rely on a few putative Republican leaders in Congress, thoroughly terrified of losing their positions, to control a group of rabid ultraconservatives who look down their noses at negotiation or compromise as forms of surrender. GOP leaders don't have an easy job. It's like trying to reason with a terrorist wearing an explosive-filled vest. You can talk all you want, but the terrorist's goal is still to blow the place up.