There it was, that thing that could not be killed. A vampire was staring directly at me. In the full glory of a New York Times headline it glared at me through my computer screen: "Republicans Pledge New Standoff on Debt Limit."
Speaker John Boehner is promising a rematch of last summer's debt ceiling fight. You remember. The brawl that shook the financial markets and caused a downgrade in the debt rating of the United States of America is up for a rematch. Once again, the hapless Speaker is playing the mouthpiece to his Tea Party irredentists. His stand? Unless the amount of the debt ceiling increase is more than covered by cuts in spending, defaulting on the debt is an acceptable option. And it must be solely by cuts. No revenue increases need apply.
We have seen this movie before, but the outcome may not be so predictable. The Democrats in the Senate will balk. The GOP will filibuster. The impotence of the "world's greatest legislative body" will be on display for all to see. And Congressional favorable rating will sink to another new low (as well it should). But this time, there may not be a short-term fix. Mr. Obama would have to play a key role in any compromise and the GOP will be loathe to give him an opportunity to act presidential during the election. And the hard positions of congressional candidates will not likely be eased during the electoral jousting. So, fasten your seat belts, or don't. We are heading off a cliff.
And this is but one of several fiscal hurdles we need to face and overcome if we are not to fall off that cliff at the end of the year. Others include the forty or fifty items known as the Bush tax cuts, the payroll tax relief extension, the "Doc fix" and, the granddaddy of them all, the looming sequester. Combined, they pose a one trillion dollar threat to the U.S. (and perhaps world) economy starting in January. Businesses and government contractors are already making moves to prepare and those moves themselves will soon show up in further diminished economic growth. Any solution will require bipartisan cooperation and Mr. Boehner has put the first bullet into that illusion.
Conventional wisdom in our nation's capital is that the two sides will read the election results the same way, and come to a compromise. Nonsense, each side will have enough victories to proclaim their views validated. The GOP never acknowledged that President Obama won a mandate in 2008 and set about trying to delegitimize him and his administration. His defeat -- not the economy, not national security, was their top priority. What will be different if he wins again? Should they lose control of the Senate, why should Democrats not follow the GOP obstructionist model? And after what promises to be a series of bitter, bloody and brutal campaigns, does anyone think that the wounds will be healed and comity will flourish between November and January? The current occupants of the White House and the Congress will have to reach an agreement to accomplish anything. And if that seems difficult now, it is likely to be near impossible after the election. Our economy is not in the sad shape of Greece, but our political system surely is.
Is there a way out? Probably not. But if there is, it lies in the only national office on the November ballot. President Obama and Governor Romney should each be required to outline a detailed plan as to how they propose to meet the multiple economic and financial threats we face. Present specific answers as to their position on the debt ceiling, the Bush tax cuts, the payroll tax and the sequester. Present a five-year budget in a format designed by the Congressional Budget office (CBO) so it can be scored. Then take their case to the people and let the people decide. Is this likely to happen? No.
What can we do to protect our savings, IRAs and retirement investments? Buy a bigger mattress.