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I Really Hope Obama Knows What He's Doing with the Debt Ceiling

Stephen Markley

12:15 PM CST, January 15, 2013

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I often fill this space up with defenses of President Obama’s policies because for the most part, I agree with them or understand the line he’s trying to walk whether in regards to taxes or war or health care or any other matter. In the case of the fiscal cliff deal and the impending need for congress to raise the debt ceiling, however, let’s just say I hope the President knows what he’s doing.

I didn’t have a problem with him caving a bit by raising the amount of money individuals have to make in order to be in the restored Clinton-era tax bracket. But to not insist that congress raise the debt ceiling may prove to be a major mistake. We had the fiscal cliff to defuse the debt-ceiling hostage crisis of 2011, and then he goes and hands a minority of radical legislators the power right back. Why would they have incentive to not use it again? They got over $2 trillion dollars in cuts the first time. He can insist by stomping his foot and huffing all he wants, but at the end of the day if the Republican leadership can’t get its caucus to vote to not melt down the world, what will Obama be able to do about it except give up another pound of flesh?

Many readers noted that my piece on Monday about the $1 trillion coin was woefully late (this is because I’m lazy and write Monday’s blog on Friday like the hippie I am), but the point remains. Now that the debt ceiling has been weaponized, we are going to be playing this dangerous game over and over and over again. Even if congress does back down in this instance, it will be there for every future congress that wants to play the game of a bunch of zealots.

And let’s just dispel the notion that Congress’s Tea Party faction actually wants anything rational. None of them will put forward a plan for what they’d actually want cut from Medicare, which is the largest driver of the deficit, and they view the deficit as this problem so grand and vast and epic that some of them think it’s better to default in order to stop the government from spending any more money. Yet they view the idea of raising taxes on any billionaire as out of the question. So, you know, worldwide economic chaos is less terrible to them than raising taxes on the wealthiest .01%. Yeah, my man, you’re not negotiating with people who respond particularly well to rational argument.

One of the most legitimate criticisms of Obama’s first term was his insistence on post-partisanship, on reaching out to his political enemies. They almost derailed the recovery by refusing to support stimulus spending, they almost sabotaged health care reform, they fought financial reform every step of the way, and yet here we are yet again with the president giving them the opportunity to do their cynical brand of psychotic mischief.

Which is why I hope he has something in his back pocket on this, the coin, the fourteenth amendment, some secret pact him and Boehner signed in blood—anything. Or else he risks beginning his second term with his presidency held at gun point yet again.