Why are Congressional Republicans failing to negotiate when economists of all political stripes warn default would be catastrophic? The answer is both clear and sad. They are putting party above country. They realize President Obama's reelection is staked in the condition of the economy. The chaos of default would surely shake the financial markets, lead to greater unemployment, and stop our modest economic recovery in its tracks. Republicans could then crow about the president's inability to deal with the economy and ask the American people if they are better off than they were four years ago. As Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell candidly told National Journal, "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." That's why they have opposed every single one of the president's initiatives to reduce unemployment and since taking control of the House in January have offered a grand total of zero jobs bills while pushing through legislation to gut everything from Planned Parenthood to clean water to NPR.
The United States is two weeks away from defaulting on its obligations for the first time in history, yet Republicans are unwilling to compromise on a reasonable plan to save our economy from collapse. They walked away from a deal conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks called "the mother of all no brainers," trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars in revenue increases. Turns out Republicans are objecting to the elimination of $400 million in tax breaks for oil companies, hedge fund managers, and corporate jet owners.
As if this weren't bad enough, Republicans are now touting a cynical ploy dubbed "cut, cap, and balance." It should be renamed politicize, pander, and abdicate. Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities described it as "one of the most ideologically extreme pieces of major budget legislation to come before Congress in years, if not decades." Basically it's the Ryan budget on steroids -- an evisceration of the social safety net to lower taxes for millionaires and billionaires, and a Constitutional amendment making it easier to cut Medicare than corporate welfare. Oh by the way, raising the debt ceiling would be contingent on that amendment passing. It is little wonder a CBS News poll shows 71 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congressional Republicans are handling the debt crisis.
We're heading down a dangerous path. As Members of Congress, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and bear true faith and allegiance to the United States, not the Republican or Democratic party. I have been willing to stand up to my own leadership when it's in the national interest. I spoke out forcefully against the corrupt practice of earmarking that makes pay to play standard operating procedure. When it was clear the process would continue anyway, I created the only open, transparent, citizen-run process in Congress for the purposes of evaluating requests from a Congressional district. This did not make me popular with senior Democrats who had long benefitted from earmarks, but I did what I believed was in the best interest of the nation.
Republicans must do the same. If political gamesmanship causes America to default, here are the consequences: Half a million Americans would lose their jobs, and it would be extremely difficult to get loans for college or homes. We wouldn't be able to pay our troops and would be forced to stop sending Social Security and Medicare checks. And the United States would lose its perfect credit rating -- adding billions to our deficit because other countries would charge us more interest on our loans.
David Brooks described the decision facing Republicans this way: "If the debt ceiling talks fail, independent voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern. And they will be right." I want what's best for our country and that is an agreed upon plan that isn't driven by political strategists.
Rep. Jackie Speier represents the 12th District of California.