John Boehner's exit from debt ceiling talks with the president made it official. The GOP is willing to risk driving the economy off a cliff -- all to protect tax breaks for millionaires, billionaires, oil companies and CEOs who fly around in corporate jets.
They're like teenagers at a drag race -- lots of preening and strutting and big talk. All ever so eager to impress the girl of their dreams that they are the coolest, toughest dudes around.
Trouble is they've got the girl of their dreams -- in this case Wall Street and the CEO class -- riding shot-gun in their ever-so-fast roadster -- and she's beginning to get a little nervous.
After all, if their game of chicken ends with the car actually tumbling off that cliff -- Wall Street, the CEOs and the American economy will be right there next to the reckless hot shots behind the wheel.
About now the Wall Street/CEO gang is doing its best to insist that their dates in the House GOP slow down and apply the brakes. Of course their credibility is a bit threadbare since just two and a half years ago they themselves plunged the economy into the Great Recession as a result of their own reckless speculation and greed.
In that respect their shared lack of risk aversion definitely provides something of a mutual attraction. But having barely escaped with its billions intact after the last binge of recklessness, Wall Street and the CEOs have grown a bit more cautious -- especially since they're not driving on the current excursion.
Don't get me wrong. The Wall Street/CEO class is very appreciative of the GOP's ardent desire to protect billionaires, millionaires, CEOs and oil companies from the "onerous" burden of having to step up and pay at least a portion of the costs of the economic party they've thrown for themselves over the last decade. That party allowed them to gorge themselves on every dime of economic growth -- leaving middle-class Americans with stagnant incomes and higher gas prices.
The Wall Street/CEO gang has no interest at all in returning to "bad old" days of the nineties when they had a marginal tax rate of 39.6% instead of today's 35%. They like to forget that when they paid those tax rates the federal government had no deficit whatsoever -- but rather surpluses as far as the eye could see. They like to forget that during the mid-nineties when they paid those "onerous" rates, the United States experienced the most prosperous period in human history. They forget that the period of the most robust, widely shared economic growth in the last century occurred in the 1950s and early 60s when the top marginal tax rate on the rich was 91%.
And, of course, their short-term memory isn't very good either. They also forget that the Bush tax cuts were sold using the argument that giving money to the wealthy "job creators" would cause them to generate massive numbers of private sector jobs. Turns out not one net private sector job was created in the first decade of this century.
So the Republicans in the House who keep blathering on about "not taxing job creators" aren't just behaving like reckless teenagers -- they're behaving like dumb reckless teenagers who never bother to crack a book. Reassuring, no?
Then again maybe they've been reading some anthropology. The House Republicans are behaving like they believe that if we make the gods of wealth angry, they won't send the rain and sunshine to make our crops grow.
But, while the Wall Street/CEO class is thankful for all this adoration from the House Republicans, they are getting increasingly queasy at the risks the GOP is willing to take to demonstrate their undying affection. And that is the stark choice facing the Republican leadership as the debt ceiling deadline approaches like an oncoming train.
Yesterday Boehner elaborated several disagreements that "caused" his negotiations with Obama to collapse. But they are nothing but a smoke screen. The real reason he walked away is that he couldn't deliver the votes in his caucus. The real reason is that a large number of members in his caucus are daft as the March Hare -- if not clinically, at least when it comes to the policy choices facing America.
These members do not reflect mainstream American values. Everyday Americans do not want to cut Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid. Over 80% say that the top priority to deal with the budget deficit should be increasing taxes on millionaires and billionaires. Most Americans realize that the reason we have a huge budget deficit is that the wealthy and big corporations have in many cases stopped paying taxes.
You didn't hear a squeak from House Republicans when Bush cut taxes for the wealthy and set the red ink flowing a decade ago. You didn't hear word one when he launched two wars without any provision to pay for them. You didn't hear wailing about the budget deficit when they passed the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan that massively benefited the pharmaceutical industry and then paid for it entirely by borrowing from the next generation.
Those House Republicans didn't rush to Fox News to denounce then-Vice President Cheney when he famously said, "Deficits don't matter."
Noop. They magically morphed into deficit hawks the moment that Barack Obama took office and had to increase government spending to prevent the economic collapse he inherited from Bush from turning into another depression.
And the last few months have made their priorities abundantly clear. All but four House Republicans voted to eliminate Medicare and replace it with a voucher program for private insurance companies that the Congressional Budget Office says would increase the average senior's out-of-pocket health care costs by $6,000.
They're perfectly happy to slash student loans, fire police and firefighters, lay off teachers, eliminate support for seniors in nursing homes, cut funding for health care for poor children -- all in the name if fiscal austerity. But tax subsidies to allow CEOs to ride around in corporate jets or subsidies to the profit-engorged oil industry? Can't touch those.
During the Bush years Republicans went right along with raising the debt ceiling seven times. But now they've manufactured a crisis that could cause the United States to default for no reason other than their own stubbornness.
The question is, will enough Republicans come to their senses before the front wheels run off the road and there is no turning back? Will Boehner agree to allow the House to vote on a plan that can get the votes -- but relies more on Democrats than Republicans?
Stay tuned. This manufactured melodrama may not have a happy ending.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in the firm Democracy Partners. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.
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