TRILLION-DOLLAR TEMPEST IN A TEA BAG

by Eric Zawadzki on October 9, 2013

111007124528-acosta-occupy-vs-tea-party-00003111-story-topOkay, so let’s talk debt ceiling and the possibility of default by the US. Folks who are willing to risk this on the grounds that they’re going to reduce deficits by demanding budget cuts are lying or stupid — possibly both — and here’s why.

The interest the US paid on its debt obligations in 2012 (the most recentĀ full year) was roughly $360 billion. That was at an interest rate of 2.24%, which is ludicrously low, historically speaking (its average is closer to 5.5% in the last 20 years). Now let’s look at those European countries who had huge problems paying their debts recently: Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain (the PIIGS). At the height of their crises, they were paying anywhere from 6% to 24% interest. If the Tea Party gets what it wants and causes the US to default on its debts, and if this pushes us into that 6-24% range, it would increase the deficit from $1 TRILLION to nearly $4 TRILLION dollars annually. How much would John Boehner and the Tea Party need to cut from the federal budget in order to justify the risk of increasing the deficit by trillions of dollars? It is impossible to cut enough. The entire annual US budget for 2012 was $3.54 trillion. If John Boehner and the Tea Party allowed the US to default on its debt obligations by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, the US government would instantly become insolvent. We literally would not have enough money to pay for the interest on next year’s debts, much less fund Social Security and the military (including veterans).

And this is exactly what the Tea Party wants: the dissolution of the US government and true anarchy. They were grinning and giving each other high fives as they came out of the vote to shut down the government. Why? Because they don’t like the way this nation’s citizens voted in the last election. And for that reason and that reason only, they want to punish us all. They’ll talk about the horrors of Obamacare, but can you imagine any healthcare reform that would be worse than senior citizens thrown out in the streets to die, because they no longer receive Social Security and so can’t meet basic financial obligations? Can you conceive of anything the ACA could do that would endanger the citizens of this nation more than refusing to pay our soldiers? Could any bill cripple our economy more than firing all our air-traffic controllers and letting the national highway system fall apart? Even if this supposedly terrible, horrible, no good, very bad healthcare bill costs a trillion dollars over the next decade (instead of saving $200 billion, as the Congressional Budget Office projects), that’s still anywhere from $9 trillion to $39 trillion dollars LESS than the Tea Party intends to spend fighting it (using our money, by the way).

If the Tea Party succeeds in destroying the full faith and credit of the United States, which is what they so clearly want to do, they don’t have to worry about not being reelected in 2014, because there won’t be a Congress to be voted into. They will have succeeded where both the terrorists and the USSR failed: in completely destroying our country and our way of life. And every Republican in the House of Representatives is complicit in this, because it has become more important to them to “beat Obama” or “save face” or “get something out of this” than to ensure that the US remains a nation on the face of the earth. John Boehner is so afraid of losing his job as Speaker of the House that he’d rather destroy the country’s credit rating forever than tell the Tea Party radicals to get bent and bring the Senate bill to the floor for an up-or-down vote.

And the GOP is still trying to blame Obama for this? They’re trying to pin this on Harry Reid? Neither Obama nor any other Democrat in the House or Senate ran for office on a platform of shutting down the government just because they thought the government needed to be destroyed (and there is ample video evidence of Tea Party campaign rallies in which candidates did just that). They’re not furloughing 800,000 people and then yelling at park rangers, nor demanding that federal workers do their jobs for nothing while insisting that they need every penny of their own congressional salaries because “they have a mortgage and kids in college.” These are real, actual things Tea Party Republicans have said and done in the last week, and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of it. Think the shutdown is no big deal? Right now your food isn’t being inspected. Expect to see massive outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella if this stretches out for any significant length of time. Do you really think the fine folks at FEMA are going to work without pay for months at a time? They no doubt wish they could, but they literally can’t, because they have families to feed, and a full-time job that pays nothing doesn’t pay the bills. And do you think it is reasonable to expect our men and women in uniform not only to risk their lives without pay, but to do so with dwindling supplies of everything from ammunition to rations?

Think both sides are equally guilty? When the Democrats controlled the House, did their leadership shut down the government and refuse to reopen it unless the president let them ban assault weapons? No, because the purpose of a budget is to pay the bills, not to introduce, amend, or repeal laws. As vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq as many of them were, did the Democrats threaten the full faith and credit of the United States in an effort to force President Bush to withdraw troops? No, because that would have been irresponsible. The Republican leadership manufactured this crisis because it fears the Tea Party more than it respects the will of its constituents. The GOP isn’t actually an opponent of Big Government, except as an occasional talking point. If you look at their record (Reagan, both Bushes, etc.), in practice, they love Big Government — HUGE Government, in fact. They just hate paying for it. The Tea Party has exactly what it wants: a government shutdown and a likely default on the US debt; to them, reopening the government at all would be admitting defeat. They’re going to threaten and blackmail John Boehner and the rest of the GOP to prevent them from breaking ranks and reopening the government. They’ll continue to lie to the American people and pretend to be interested in compromise, but there is nothing Obama, the Democrats, or their constituents can do or say that will convince the Tea Party to prevent the US from defaulting on its debts.

At this point, Nancy Pelosi is desperately seeking 25 patriots from among her Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives who would be willing to break ranks with the Tea Party and force the GOP leadership to call for a vote to fund the government. This is no small task — anyone on the Republican side of the House with the moral courage to reopen the government will almost certainly face a Tea Party challenger in the next primary, and no small number of them will lose their jobs. If you’re in a congressional district with a Republican in the House of Representatives, encourage him or her to help put an end to this shutdown, because if our country defaults on its debts and is forced to pay massively increased interest rates, there won’t even be enough money left over to pay Congress. And John Boehner likely won’t be the only person who weeps over that.

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Eric Zawadzki is a writer, geek, extrovert, optimist, and father. He is mostly cheerful, occasionally outraged, and never bored. He lives in Minneapolis with his filk-rock-star wife and their young son. He maintains a blog at http://www.fourmoonspress.com/news.

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