For each of the last 38 years, Lake Superior State University has published its "List of Words to be Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness." But missing from the dozen terms and phrases including "double down" and "spoiler alert" sentenced to the school's rhetorical death row for 2013 is one that must be put to the sword. "Both sides do it," that ubiquitous verbal crutch of the lazy American journalist, should be forever struck from our political lexicon. After all, only one party—the Republican Party—doubled the previous record for use of the filibuster, routinely withheld almost all of its votes on major legislation, blocked President Obama's judicial nominees at unheard of rates and is once again threatening to destroy the U.S. economy if its debt ceiling demands are not met.
John Cornyn, the second ranking Senate Republican, published the GOP's latest ransom note in the op-ed pages of the Houston Chronicle. Cornyn, whose previous claims to fame include threatening judges and his declaration that "none of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead," joined Sens. McConnell, Toomey, McCain and Graham in promising a default on the full faith and credit of the United States if President Obama doesn't acquiesce to draconian spending cuts:
The coming deadlines will be the next flashpoints in our ongoing fight to bring fiscal sanity to Washington. It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well-being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain. President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately.
As Steve Benen
and Greg Sargent
among others have warned, these kamikaze conservatives aren't engaged in "politics as usual" or "the new normal" with their admitted debt ceiling hostage-taking
. They are threatening to sink the U.S. ship of state.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
Republican leaders readily acknowledge as much. Failure to raise the debt limit, Speaker John Boehner cautioned in January 2011, "would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy." Paul Ryan, whose 2012 House GOP budget would add $6 trillion in new red ink over the next decade, agreed that "you can't not raise the debt ceiling." Lindsey Graham, who has repeatedly demanded Obama "man up" on spending cuts, explained why:
"Let me tell you what's involved if we don't lift the debt ceiling: financial collapse and calamity throughout the world. That's not lost upon me. But we've done this 93 times. And if we keep doing the same old thing, then that is insanity to the nth degree."
Apparently, that "same old thing" only applies when a Republican
is sitting in the Oval Office. It's not just that Ronald Reagan presided over 17 debt limit hikes and a tripling of the national debt during his eight years in the White House or that President George W. Bush nearly doubled it again. The end-of-decade $5.6 trillion surplus forecast by the Congressional Budget Office in 2000 was more than eviscerated by two unfunded wars, two rounds of Bush tax cuts, the unpaid-for Medicare prescription drug benefit and the TARP bank bailout. To accommodate those "spend and not tax" policies, Bush and his GOP allies in Congress voted seven times to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. (That vote tally included a "clean" debt ceiling increase in 2004, backed by 98 current House Republicans and 31 sitting GOP Senators.) And as it turns out, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) voted for all of it.
During the GOP's first debt ceiling hostage-taking in the summer of 2011, U.S. consumer confidence plunged and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost while Uncle Sam racked up almost $2 billion in unnecessary interest payments. As for the uncertainty and credit rating downgrade the debt ceiling debacle produced, S&P pointed the finger at the GOP, the only party willing to countenance a default by the United States:
A Standard & Poor's director said for the first time Thursday that one reason the United States lost its triple-A credit rating was that several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the serious consequences of a credit default -- a position put forth by some Republicans. Without specifically mentioning Republicans, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that "people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default," Mukherji said. "That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable," he added. "This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns."
That's exactly right. That kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns and unheard of among Democrats. But among Republican leaders, holding the American economy hostage is just another day at the office. After his first round of debt limit extortion, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell boasted in August 2011:
"I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting," he said. "Most of us didn't think that. What we did learn is this -- it's a hostage that's worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done."
And as he later explained to CNBC's Larry Kudlow, McConnell's future hostage-taking isn't a threat, but a promise:
"What we have done, Larry, also is set a new template. In the future, any president, this one or another one, when they request us to raise the debt ceiling, it will not be clean anymore. This is just the first step. This, we anticipate, will take us into 2013. Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order."
A new template, indeed. Because while the minority party in Congress has often voted against debt ceiling increases, it never had the either the numbers or the intent to blackmail the President. Until, that is, Democrat Barack Obama entered the Oval Office.
Threatening to sabotage the U.S. economy isn't just another talking point to be brushed off as today's Washington politics as usual. Neither is a mandatory 60 vote supermajority in the Senate, confirming President Obama's judicial nominees at half the rate of his predecessor, erecting draconian restrictions on voting or trying to rig the Electoral College. As Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it in summing up their book, It's Even Worse Than It Looks:
"Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem."
To put it another way, both sides don't do it. And in 2013, it's long past time to stop saying that they do.