When the initial threat of a federal government shutdown was averted earlier this month, the Republican/Tea party game plan was revealed for what it was, high stakes political extortion. In threatening to shut down federal government operations, the Republican/Tea Party put at risk the livelihood of about 800,000 federal workers and their families, with millions more Americans potentially impacted by a government shutdown.
What was extorted was an additional $38 billion in federal spending cuts this year that will cost jobs in what has been so far an anemic economic recovery. But the stakes are much higher going forward. Threats to put the U.S. government into default by refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling are a much more serious matter. Even the threat of default could put the stability of our economy in jeopardy, and put at risk many millions of American jobs.
So what’s driving Tea Party Republicans? Tea Party organizers and their Republican Party allies are lusting for power and influence in Washington despite their anti-government rhetoric. Just look at the hundreds of millions of dollars that big-moneyed contributors, such as the Koch brothers and contributors to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, paid to buy Republican Party control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2010 elections. There’s a Ayn Rand streak in there too, as represented by Senator Rand Paul (named after Ayn Rand) who was elected to the Senate in 2010. The difference between moneyed Republican interests and their Tea Party friends is interesting.
Moneyed Republicans are looking for their next opportunity to control both houses of Congress and the White House and once again feed directly from the government trough as they did during the George W. Bush years. The Randians are a little scarier. They really do seem to want to dismantle the federal government.
What’s missing with these ideologues who are followers of Ayn Rand is that we’ve already had a taste of what limited government involvement in economic affairs looks like. The Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of 2008 are instructive. I wish sometimes that instead of screwing around in American politics some of these crazies would move to Somalia where Randian style anarchy reigns.
What’s also a little frustrating is the unwillingness of many Democrats to stand up directly to the anti-government rhetoric we’re hearing from almost all Republicans these days. Obamacare is a government takeover of health care in America? Really? If anything it’s a compromise that was too much of a giveaway to the insurance industry. Government regulation is strangling the American economy? Really? We saw what emasculated and underfunded regulatory agencies did in heading off the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and in heading off the greatest financial fraud perhaps ever in our history that led to the near collapse of our financial system in the fall of 2008.
And finally, we come to the most ludicrous idea of all — that wealthy individuals in the US are undertaxed. First of all, historically they are not. Marginal tax rates were almost triple what they are today during the golden age of capitalism that began after World War II. And no one on the Democratic side is talking about raising marginal tax rates beyond what they were during the booming years of the Clinton presidency. During the Clinton years more than 22 million jobs were created, and when President Clinton left office, the budget was not only balanced but a 10-year budget surplus was projected at $5.6 trillion.
No one in their right mind can fail to understand that after heading off economic calamity in 2008-2009, our political leaders need to find a way bring the federal budget into balance. Current federal debt projections are not sustainable. Cutting the debt will require some significant cuts to current government spending — hopefully with as little direct impact on the middle class and the poor as possible.
Spending cuts won’t be enough though. Letting the Bush cuts that were never “paid for” expire would be a good start toward the balancing the federal budget. Every dollar in tax relief as a result of the Bush tax cuts was borrowed, and will have to be borrowed year after year. The relatively small increase in marginal tax rates that would result from letting the Bush tax cuts expire would represent shared sacrifice. And as Oliver Wendell Holmes commented: “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”
So in the end, what’s really at stake in finding a rational way forward in managing the federal debt? What is that we should all be standing up for? It’s no less than standing up for our American way of life. An America with a thriving middle class. An America in charge of its own destiny. An America that provides a social safety net for its citizens when they fall on hard times. And an America that provides quality health care and a retirement with dignity for all Americans. It’s time to fight back against the extortionists.