(By The Pragmatic Pundit)
Washington’s latest episode of finger-pointing is further validation that Americans are being governed by a hodge-podge of brats and immature idiots. What’s worse is the media, who should serve as a touchstone of informed, factual, balanced analysis, is the mascot and cheerleader of this mindless foolishness.
As we lurch from one crisis to another, I’m willing to bet that in the minds of many, they have all fused together. Hopefully, the following will lend some clarity.
The First Debt Ceiling Crisis
This all started with the need to raise the debt ceiling in 2011.
Republicans wanted to use it as a hostage-taking opportunity in which they would agree to an increase only if every dollar of a new borrowing was matched by a dollar in spending cuts.
The dishonesty in this approach is that the debt ceiling is not raised in order to accommodate “new spending”. The debt ceiling is raised to cover the appropriations Congress has already approved. The money has already been committed. It has been spent and the bill has come due.
Remember, it is the Republican House that controls the purse strings. Despite claims that President Obama has increased spending….the truth is, the President only has authority to spend at the direction of and as directed by Congress.
President Obama’s Grand Bargain
In order to avert a debt ceiling crisis, the President and Speaker Boehner attempted to make a deal. Remember the golf summit that took place between the President, Boehner, Gov. Kasich of Ohio and Vice President Biden? Ideas included what came to be called the Obama-Boehner $4 trillion “Grand Bargain”. The two leaders came to an agreement, but as Boehner sought support for the plan, many speculated his Speakership was on the line and the deal fell through.
According to Ryan Lizza’s expose’ of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor … it was a “fair assessment” that he (Cantor) talked Boehner out of accepting Obama’s deal. He said he told Boehner that it would be better, instead, to take the issues of taxes and spending to the voters and “have it out” with the Democrats in the election.
Why give Obama an enormous political victory, and potentially help him win reelection, when they might be able to negotiate a more favorable deal with a new Republican President? Boehner told Obama there was no deal. Instead of a Grand Bargain, Cantor and the House Republicans made a grand bet.
The Budget Control Act
Republicans agreed to increase the federal debt limit in exchange for the Democrats’ pledge to cap future spending at agreed-upon levels. Three days later, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the nation’s credit rating from “AAA” (highest) to “AA+” (highest, with qualifications).
The compromise was embodied in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Congress passed the Budget Control Act on August, 2011. 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted for it. The Senate passed the Act by a vote of 74-26.
The Act brought conclusion to the 2011 debt ceiling crisis.
How many times did you hear the Republicans say the Democrats had not passed a budget?
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, in the past 26 years, Congress has passed a year-long budget only three times, in 1989, 1995 and 1997. Moreover, a budget is just a blueprint for Congress that they can choose to ignore…conversely, The Budget Control Act is law.
Republicans were giddy at the prospect of a law that capped spending, triggered spending cuts and promised a balanced budget.
CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley sat down with John Boehner who said:
“…When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.”
Paul Ryan, the Republican face of their mythical fiscal responsibility said:
“The Budget Control Act takes an important step in the right direction by cutting $1.2 trillion in government spending over the next decade. ….I support this reasonable, responsible effort to cut government spending, avoid a default, and help create a better environment for job creation….Now, is the time to secure a bipartisan step forward in the effort to put Washington’s fiscal house in order. The Budget Control Act achieves this goal….”
The Super Committee
The Budget Control Act involved several complex mechanisms, such as creation of the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “super committee”). A “trigger mechanism” was included in the bill to enact $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts in the event that the committee could not agree on recommended cuts or the full Congress failed to pass their recommendations.
The committee was made up twelve members of Congress, six from the House of Representatives and six from the Senate, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
On November 21, the committee issued a statement:
“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.”
The Debt Ceiling Crisis of 2012
Failure of the super committee brought us to the debt ceiling crisis of 2012. “Fiscal cliff” was the shorthand used to describe the conundrum the government faced. The debate was again driven by the Republicans’ insistence on spending cuts as their condition for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling. There were suggestions to use a platinum coin and provisions of the 14th Amendment to circumvent Congress.
In order to avert the automatic “spending cut” trigger called sequestration, both houses of Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, on January 1, 2013 as a partial resolution to the fiscal cliff crisis. The Act delayed sequestration from January 2, 2013 to March 1, 2013.
So here we are, insulted with a mindless argument about whose idea it was. Clearly, if the White House proposed the idea, the Republicans could have rejected it, but remember, according to Boehner, it was a “negotiation” in which he felt Republicans clearly came out ahead...”he got 98% of what he wanted”.
More importantly, since President Obama assumed office, the Republicans have rejected virtually EVERY idea and proposal suggested by the White House…even when the idea originated with them. So, I’m inclined to believe, if sequestration had been the President’s idea, it wouldn’t exist.
In fact, the idea of “sequestration” was introduced in The Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.
The law created a five-year deficit reduction plan, with an aim to balance the budget. Unmet deficit goals triggered a process of automatic spending cuts….50% from defense and 50% from discretionary spending.Social Security, Medicare, several anti-poverty programs, and interest on the debt were exempted from the sequester.
It was signed into law by President Reagan in December 1985. In 1986 the Supreme Court ruled the Act unconstitutional on the grounds that sequestration gave Congress too much budgetary power. In 1987 the Act was passed again.
Still, the Republicans would have the public believe the President shouldered all the responsibility for the Budget Control Act. And now as sequestration looms, have labeled it “the Obamaquester”.
Despite initial claims of elation at its passage, Paul Ryan later argued on CBS’s “Face the Nation”, that
“his vote for the Budget Control Act was not a vote for the defense cuts…but rather a “down payment” on deficit reduction. The goal was never that these defense cuts actually occur.”