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Here We Go Again

Speaker of the House John Boehner told a group of sympathetic conservatives at the Peter G. Peterson Fiscal Summit that “We shouldn’t dread the debt limit. We should welcome it. It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.”

Well, he ought to know. He and his party are responsible for the inaction.

He then went on to say, “I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limmit increase.” Principle? I’m amazed the man doesn’t choke on the word. We are talking here about a man who had to be admonished by the House leadership years ago that it was truly bad form to walk around the chamber handing out lobbyist checks to his colleagues and who lived for years in an apartment subsidized by lobbyists.

In 2011, the debt ceiling showdown got the Republicans $900 billion in immediate cuts and $1.2 trillion in triggered cuts, and they have reneged on the deal. Instead of the across-the-board cuts they agreed to, they have decided to shift all the cuts to social programs (eliminating Meals-on-Wheels and health care for women) and increase spending for the military, restoring things and adding things the Pentagon doesn’t want or need.

But the debt ceiling battle drove down President Obama’s approval ratings because the Republicans are so good at controlling the message through their media partners at Fox News and talk radio. Those who believe in the Republican message are fairly ignorant about the realities of economics or taxation or our national credit rating.

Our credit rating was downgraded because of the last debt ceiling battle. Or was it? I looked up the meaning of those ratings and guess what? Being downgraded from a AAA to a AAA- or a AA+ is not a downgrade. A downgrade is being dropped into the Bs, not staying in the As.

I started school when grades were letters, not numbers. Getting an A+, an A or an A- was all of a kind. The difference was negligible. That’s why we switched to number grades. There are three credit ratings agencies, Moody’s, Standard’s and Poors, and Fitch. They use different letter designations to say the same thing. Everything above a AA- or an Aa3 is a nation with a strong to extremely strong ability to pay interest on its bonds. We were downgraded from “extremely strong” to “very strong” by one agency. The rating didn’t increase the interest we pay on our bonds or make investors back away from buying American bonds. It just made good press for the Republicans who never bother to explain facts to their faithful bobbleheads.

And don’t ever try to explain national debt to a conservative. The right wing media and the Republican Party are talking dollar amounts to deflect understanding of the facts. They are screaming “The Sky Is Falling! Our National Debt Is $16 TRILLION!” National debts are never measured in dollars or euros or yen. They are measured as a ratio to gross domestic product, meaning they are measured against the total value of goods and services produced in a country which is a pretty good indicator of a nation’s ability to repay the debt or at least make the interest payments on it.

Here’s a few national debt ratios, for comparison — Luxembourg, 3443% of GDP; Ireland, 1165% of GDP; the United Kingdom, 400% of GDP; and the United States? Well, we’re floating around 99% to 100% and actually decreasing as our GDP rises with the recovery. If we were a European Union nation, we would rank 19th of 26 nations. In 1946, our national debt was 130% of GDP.

But Boehner will put up a fight over the debt ceiling, not because it is good fiscal policy or because our national debt situation is a crisis, but because the Republican Party has invented this crisis to win power, not to aid the nation in any way. The Republicans didn’t give a shit about deficits or the national debt when Reagan doubled the national debt or when Bush doubled it again. They didn’t demand spending cuts to offset spending when Bush took two wars and a drug benefit off the books and pretended we weren’t paying for them.

Sometime in the past few days I wasn’t completely paying attention when someone on MSNBC said that Americans are prone to collective amnesia. I’m not sure Americans are, but Republicans definitely are. Maybe it goes with all that “low effort thinking” they do.

 

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