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Michael Kieschnick Headshot

What Now After Debt Ceiling Debacle

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Tonight feels a lot like election night November 2010.

A horrible outcome even though default was avoided. Consequences that are severely damaging to millions of real people barely hanging on. The result of a truly dysfunctional political system with unlimited corporate spending, Fox News, an energized and racist opposition fueled by special interest money, and a president that seemed to go out of the way to disappoint those that worked the hardest to elect him. We could see this debacle coming, and, of course, today's outcome is inextricably linked to the election results of November 2010.

I do not want to argue about whether those horrible results were inevitable or whether President Obama negotiated badly (I have clear views on those, but that is another essay). For today, the question is simply what now, for make no mistake, this was not the closing round of the fight over what kind of nation we will have in the coming decades.

However badly this debt ceiling outcome turns out to be and I believe it will very damaging, it can get much worse. While it is fun writing (hail to the fighting keyboard brigades), it is far more fun to engage in fights that matter.

Here are five for right now.

The first fight is in Wisconsin, where a single state fight has become a national fight by proxy between teachers and other public servants and the proxy groups of the Koch brothers, who rejoiced at the opportunity to put their radical economic theories into practice by Koch brothers by pushing though draconian budget cuts, eviscerating public sector unions and selling off public assets to favored private interests. Next week's recall elections are progressives' chance to start climbing out of our hole. We cannot afford to lose.

If you have an extra dollar or an extra hour of volunteer time, it is needed right now. There are plenty of groups that need your time -- including making phone calls from out of state (see www.boldprogressives.org) or walking precincts (see www.wearewisconsin.org). Make no mistake -- this is a bitter fight, marked by a Republican Supreme Court judge choking another judge, campaign headquarters being burned down, and Koch brothers front groups trying to mislead progressive voters about when the election actually occurs!

The second fight has to do with the composition of the Congressional panel that will propose the next steps -- cuts, tax reform, new taxes. Each congressional leader appoints three. If the panel recommends a package by a majority vote (that is, only one member of the other party must be persuaded), Congress must take up the proposal with a simple up or down vote. Republican leaders have promised to make appointments who are committed to zero dollars of new revenue, no matter how obtained. No such commitments have been made by Rep. Pelosi or Sen. Reid. Given history, we are most vulnerable to a bad selection by Sen. Reid, whose caucus is filled with senators who have repeatedly stabbed us in the back on key progressive issues (and two of them, Sen. Conrad, who chairs the Budget Committee, and Sen. Baucus, who chairs the Finance Committee, believe their positions give them priority for the committee). Immense pressure must be imposed to prevent such likely sell-outs from being on the panel. Remember, it only takes one. Call, write, fax, or email Sen. Reid today and demand that he appoint only senators with spines of steel. Sen. Reid has plenty of phone lines and an email contact form helpfully listed at http://reid.senate.gov/contact/index.cfm.

The third fight involves Fox News. Imagine for a moment that there was no Fox News with anchors and commentators spewing false information about over taxation, burgeoning debt, and deceit about whether there could even be a default. Nobody promoted the Tea Party more than Fox. It is impossible to overstate the influence of Fox News since it is the largest news outlet in terms of audience and the only one utterly willing to make stuff up to drive its right wing agenda. The debt ceiling fight temporarily sucked all the air out of the Murdoch/New of the World scandal that has largely unfolded in London. If you were watching with horror, now is the time to dive in to work on turning off Fox, whether it is with Media Matters or Color of Change.

The fourth fight involves voting rights. As widely reported elsewhere, the GOP is engaged in an aggressive multi-state campaign to ensure that many members of the electorate that provided Obama with a large margin is simply not eligible to vote in 2012. This takes the shape of tactics as broadranging as imposing discriminatory strict voter identification requirements, intimidating students who have the right to vote where at college, prohibiting mass voter registration drives, eliminating or shortening the period of time for early voting or election day registration, and not complying the federal law that mandates that voter registration be available at state public assistance and motor vehicle offices. So far, the Obama Justice Department has been quite passive on these matters, in sharp contrast to the Bush DOJ, which went so far as to oust U.S. attorneys unwilling to prosecute trumped up voter fraud cases. Track what is happening in your state with the Fair Elections Network (FELN.org) or Project Vote (projectvote.org), and demand that Attorney General Eric Holder put the highest priority on defending the right to vote and ensuring that states meet their obligation to make it easy to registger to vote at public assistance offices. You can write or call Mr. Holder at http://www.justice.gov/contact-us.html.

The fifth fight involves the 2012 Congressional elections. Simply put, the key hostage takers must be removed from Congress. There is a role for everyone in this fight, whether you live in one of the districts represented by a member of the Tea Party Caucus or were simply an unwilling hostage. It has become trite to say that elections matter. Surely no more evidence is needed. And in this case, there is no need to even be for someone else -- we must remove those who prefer destroying the economy, redefining rape and gutting the Clean Air Act. It does not matter if you like the opponent candidate, believe President Obama did the best he could, or think corporate interests have too much power -- we must remove the hostage takers to have a better chance in the fights that happen after 2012. Even if you are so disappointed by President Obama you don't want to do anything to help him win re-election, taking our House of Representatives away from the tea party is an incredibly important way you can and should help in the 2012 elections.

In the end, there is a personal question -- do you want to remove the Tea Party Caucus as much as they want to dismantle our social safety net?

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