To Hell in a Handbasket

In less than 24 hours, our country could enter into a very serious situation. In addition to a partial federal government shutdown that is having far-reaching effects across the economy; by this time tomorrow our government may no longer have the authority to borrow money to meet its daily financial obligations. And all the while, Congressional Republicans are acting like a bunch of over-grown Frat Boys, drunk not on cheap beer, but on power. Very much like a recalcitrant child, they have stuck a macramé pin in the wings of our government and are content to sit back and watch it squirm. Oh, and sing “Amazing Grace.”  Really? Nero fiddled; the Republican Caucus sang. You’d think, seeing how well the Nero thing turned out, they’d think twice. But nooooo… true to form, the one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

I would be an entirely different story if their arguments had any basis in truth. In true Lee Atwater style, they have framed a fiscal debate around the stereotype of blacks being fiscally irresponsible. And in true Republican style, the Base is eating it up. The fact of the matter is that most appropriations bills originate in the House of Representatives – in which Republicans have held the majority since the Great Shellacking of 2010. So, one could easily argue that the Republicans hold – at the very least – a large share of responsibility for this country’s current bills.  The raising of the Debt Ceiling does not authorize any additional spending. It allows the government the ability to take out short-term loans in order to meet daily obligations, as required by the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA). In this way, government spending actually does work very much like a household budget and checking account. Every household has certain monthly obligations. And a functional household ensures monthly expenditures do not exceed monthly income.  Sound financial theory. But how many of us have been faced with an unexpected expenditure – like a flat tire – and ended up having to replace two tires … like now? In our personal budgets, we have some flexibility. We can dip into our emergency fund, we can pay for the tires with a credit card, we can use our overdraft protection.  The only problem with that: because of the ADA, none of these options are available to the federal government. If you have two flat tires and there is not sufficient money on your Car Maintenance budget line on that day, you would not be able to buy the tires, period.  You couldn’t dip into your savings, or use your credit card, or dip into your discretionary fund. No calling up BankofMomandDad. So, while the government may forecast that they will have a certain amount of money on any given budget line on any given day, the money has to be on the correct budget line at just the right time or that obligation cannot be met.

 And then we have the other exacerbating factor:  a budget is based on forecasted receipts. Well, let’s just look at where the government stands right now. Income tax is a major source of funds for the government. But, because of the federal government shut-down, some 800,000 government employees are not receiving their regular pay, so are being taxed based not on their regular pay, but on their earned pay. Do you see where this is going?

But to me, what is most sad is how ill-conceived and short-sighted the Republican shut-down strategy is. They allege that this is all about saving the American people from the evils of the Affordable Care Act.  Okay, so let’s just say – for argument’s sake – that the ACA is Evil Incarnate and must be destroyed. Had the Republicans thought this thing through, they would have cleared the decks: passed a Continuing Resolution, raised the Debt Ceiling, and allowed all business to continue as usual. That would have left the headlines free to chronicle the daily debacles of the ACA roll-out. But, instead of being inundated with stories about software glitches, crashing websites,  under-trained and under-staffed Assistance Centers, and endless wait times on toll-free lines, we have … the House Republicans singing all three verses of Amazing Grace without the words written down!

“God bless America. And no one else.”

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