In the last few weeks something amazing happened: the U.S. economy and its international credit rating were taken hostage by a Republican Party that has itself been high-jacked by extremists. We can't let them get away with it.
President Obama needs to show his leadership and political spine by refusing to pay ransom for preserving our nation's solid international credit rating. He can, and must, use the Constitution to prevent this kind of political blackmail. To force massive cuts in public programs and a freeze on taxes for the super-rich as the price for not reneging on the public debt of the United States is not only unconscionable, it is unconstitutional. Section 4 of the 14th amendment explicitly states that public debts, once duly authorized by law, "shall not be questioned."
Our president must not let the threat of causing a default on our nation's public obligations force draconian cuts in social programs -- not only because the damage to our nation would be so high, but because this kind of extortionist precedent can't be set if we are to retain any semblance of political sanity and morality.
Certainly, after the president has taken this firm stand against political blackmail, the discussion about long-term spending and taxation must be resumed. But when it is, it must be a well-grounded discussion about what in reality will, or will not, lead to social and economic health. This requires setting a number of things straight:
There is something else that is basic: We must -- in both our short term and long term economic planning -- take into account scientific findings. For example, neuroscience shows that the kind of care and education children receive affects the development of their brains, and ultimately the competence, ingenuity, and resilience of what economists call our nation's human capital.
We are now in a post-industrial knowledge/service global economy, and we as a nation have already dramatically fallen behind all other developed nations in our investment in our human capital. So, besides being catastrophic for millions of Americans, the cuts in childcare, education, healthcare, and other social services being demanded by Republicans will be disastrous for our national competiveness.
Remember, it was Republican President Lincoln who established the National Academies of Sciences to promote scientific principles to guide our national policies. And the passing of First Lady Betty Ford is a potent recent reminder of how far the party has strayed from its roots in support of a thriving middle class and the protection of the most vulnerable among us: women, children, the elderly, and minorities. These are basic American principles, and we cannot abandon them.
We urgently need a reframing of our political and economic discourse, one that puts caring for our people at the center of our national agenda -- and it is up to us to demand this from politicians of both parties.