Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Republican Wreckage


House Republicans have lost sight of the country’s welfare. It’s hard to conclude anything else from their latest actions, including the House speaker’s dismissal of President Obama’s plea for compromise Monday night. They have largely succeeded in their campaign to ransom America’s economy for the biggest spending cuts in a generation. They have warped an exercise in paying off current debt into an argument about future spending. Yet, when they win another concession, they walk away.

This increasingly reckless game has pushed the nation to the brink of ruinous default. The Republicans have dimmed the futures of millions of jobless Americans, whose hopes for work grow more out of reach as government job programs are cut and interest rates begin to rise. They have made the federal government a laughingstock around the globe.

In a scathing prime-time television address Monday night, President Obama stepped off the sidelines to tell Americans the House Republicans were threatening a “deep economic crisis” that could send interest rates skyrocketing and hold up Social Security and veterans’ checks. By insisting on a single-minded approach and refusing to negotiate, he said, Republicans were violating the country’s founding principle of compromise.

“How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries?” he said, invoking Ronald Reagan’s effort to make everyone pay a fair share and pointing out that his immediate predecessors had to ask for debt-ceiling increases under rules invented by Congress. He urged viewers to demand compromise. “The entire world is watching,” he said.

Mr. Obama denounced House Speaker John Boehner’s proposal to make cuts only, now, and raise the debt ceiling briefly, but he embraced the proposal made over the weekend by the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, which gave Republicans virtually everything they said they wanted when they ignited this artificial crisis: $2.7 trillion from government spending over the next decade, with no revenue increases. It is, in fact, an awful plan, which cuts spending far too deeply at a time when the government should be summoning all its resources to solve the real economic problem of unemployment. It asks for absolutely no sacrifice from those who have prospered immensely as economic inequality has grown.

Mr. Reid’s proposal does at least protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And about half of its savings comes from the winding down of two wars, which naturally has drawn Republican opposition. (Though Republicans counted the same savings in their budgets.)

Mr. Boehner will not accept this as the last-ditch surrender that it is. The speaker, who followed Mr. Obama on TV with about five minutes of hoary talking points clearly written before the president spoke, is insisting on a plan that raises the debt ceiling until early next year and demands another vote on a balanced-budget amendment, rejected by the Senate last week. The result would be to stage this same debate over again in an election year. Never mind that this would almost certainly result in an immediate downgrade of the government’s credit.

We agreed strongly when Mr. Obama said Americans should be “offended” by this display and that they “may have voted for divided government but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government.” It’s hard not to conclude now that dysfunction is the Republicans’ goal — even if the cost is unthinkable.

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