Carol Shea-Porter - What’s Really Behind Debt-Ceiling Politics

The debt limit debate has become a sign of all that is wrong in Congress these days. This Congress, the most partisan in recent history and, as the LA Times notes, “underperforming even the ‘do-nothing Congress’ of 1948,” simply cannot stay at work long enough or even work together to get the job done.  As NH Senator Kelly Ayotte commented in that July 3 article, “I thought we would vote on a lot more bills.”  Yes, so did we.  At least, we thought they could vote on the looming debt ceiling vote before our country defaulted, but the deadline, August 2, is getting too close for comfort, and Congress had to be shamed into coming back to work this week to even argue about it. They have not passed a single jobs bill, which is a disaster for the millions of unemployed in this country, but if they let America default on its debts, the consequences would reverberate in the markets around the world.

 As Ronald Reagan said in 1983, “the full consequences of a default, or even the serious prospect of default by the United States, are impossible and awesome to contemplate.” In 1987, Reagan called refusing to raise the debt ceiling “brinksmanship” that ”threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits.  Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the Federal deficit would soar.”  

Fast-forward to today.  In Atlanta Business Chronicle, US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donahue said:  “…the country cannot afford to not pay its bills. To those newly-elected representatives who say they aren’t going to raise the debt ceiling and will shut down government, Donahue said the U.S. Chamber has its own message: We’ll get rid of you.”  This is pretty serious stuff.  When Republican icons from the past and the head of the US Chamber are warning Republican leaders of dire consequences if they don’t raise the debt ceiling and default, why isn’t Congress listening?

Sadly, the answer lies in politics.  Political ideology trumps reality.  Republicans are so against any kind of tax on the wealthy that they voted repeatedly to increase the ceiling through the Bush years rather than raise revenue to pay for their spending.  As USA Today stated in their July 5 editorial,  “…the nation has used trillions of dollars in borrowed money to finance two wars, Medicare’s prescription drug program, and President George W. Bush’s broad tax cuts—all initiated with the GOP controlling both the White House and Congress.  Now Republicans have belatedly decided that borrowing is bad too, but they dogmatically resist even the most sensible and painless tax hikes.”

The Republicans are so opposed to either collecting any income tax from GE and other corporations, or stopping taxpayer subsidies for oil companies and other special interests, that they are refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agree to slash Social Security, Medicare, education, housing, transportation funding, infrastructure, research, healthcare, or anything else that actually benefits communities and the middle class.   They tell people through mailers and tele-town halls that they have to reduce benefits to save Social Security, all the while knowing that Social Security is solvent enough to fully pay benefits until 2036, and is not contributing to the debt at all right now.

Republican members are also misleading the middle class and small businesses by asking them if they want to pay more taxes, and then reporting back the answer was no. Of course it is no. The middle is tired of paying for the breaks the tax structure gives to the top 1% and multinational corporations.  NOBODY is talking about raising the taxes on the middle class, and Republicans know that. They are misleading the public and distracting them from the real issue. Their ideology and agenda will not allow them to raise revenue to help us dig out of this mountain of debt that their ideology got us in.  Democrats do not get a free pass on the debt since they certainly have contributed, and many voted to continue the Bush tax cuts for two years, but as USA Today noted, it was the recent spending since Clinton’s budget surplus that got this country into deep trouble.

Sad, isn’t it?  Although NH members vote with their party at least 95% of the time, I hope they will rise above politics and vote with Ronald Reagan rather than their current leadership.  America is counting on them to do the right thing.

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Former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s First District from 2007-2011.  She wrote the proposal for and established a non-profit, social service agency, which continues to serve all ages.  She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.