It’s called the game of chicken: when two daredevils drive aggressively towards each other on a crash course to showcase their lack of fear. The idea is that the first person to advert suicide is a “chicken,” a coward, or a weak individual.
This is the game that politicians have just played with our government. The only difference is, instead of it being their own lives and livelihoods they are sacrificing, they “courageously” sacrifice the salaries of 800,000 federal employees, the thousands of individuals who rely on Social Security and Medicaid, and the thousands of tourist who flock to Washington, DC to enjoy the springtime festivities. They chose to risk the halting of crucial medical research, to risk halting student loan and passport application processing, and to risk halting the disbursements of Federal Tax refund checks. Our elected officials this past week recklessly played a game of chicken, with the American people strapped to the hoods of both cars, as they risked the economic growth of this country in the pursuit of appearing to be the strongest politician.
Just to recap, Republicans wanted dramatic cuts-of 61 billion dollars- while democrats wanted a hold of dramatic spending cuts for the new budget (Proposed by the President in February). As the hours to the shutdown dwindled down, both sides came to a rough agreement on how much to cut, however Republicans wanted to add policy riders to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Just for a little context, Planned Parenthood has been a target of Conservatives for decades. The are a group that receives federal funding, but is also the Nation’s largest provider of abortions. Lets be clear, NONE of the money they receive from the government goes to the funding of abortions, it would be illegal; what it goes to are the numerous other health programs they provide for citizens, especially women at a low cost. The truth is only 3% of the all work done by Planned Parenthood, is dedicated to providing abortion. However, late into negotiations and hours before a shutdown of the government, Republicans refused to drop this issue, and the final negotiations centered around the decades-old debate of abortion.
In the end, at around 10:30(an hour and a half before the government was to shut down), a deal was reached, keeping the government open. While the details of the cuts won’t be announced until Monday, we know that in the end, it cut 38.5 billion dollars in programs. And although these cuts affect many people(cuts in farmer subsidies, certain education programs, and the defense budget), many cuts were adverted (it maintained the Pell Grant at current levels).
President Obama, addressing the country on Friday night after the deal was reached said:
This agreement between Democrats and Republicans, on behalf of all Americans, is on a budget that invests in our future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history. Like any worthwhile compromise, both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them. And I certainly did that.
Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful. Programs people rely on will be cut back. Needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances.
What we all just witnessed was the first tangible result of the 2010 midterm elections, that gave Republicans majority in the House of Representatives. This was the first show of strength from the new Republican majority, led by Speaker John Boehner, and it led to the largest one-year spending cut since World War II(when we were demilitarizing). While Americans are taking a sigh of relief that this fight is over, politicians are reloading and regrouping for the much larger fights that lie ahead, soon ahead.
The truth is, this dramatic fight is just the first of what will be AT LEAST two more fights to come this year. What may be discouraging is that many political pundits insist that this debate was the easy one in comparison to what lies ahead. This is because, while this debate was over the cutting of billions from the budget, the next fights will be about cutting Trillions of dollars from the budget.
Sometime in the middle of May, the US is scheduled to reach it’s debt ceiling. The “debt ceiling” can be compared to the maximum balance on a credit card, so in essence, the US is scheduled to “Max out” sometime in mid-May(Currently May 14th). The Congress and the President (the people who just brought us 90 minutes away from a government shutdown) are responsible for increasing this limit on how much the United States can borrow. So going back to the credit card analogy, congress is responsible for raising its own credit card limit. If they don’t increase this debt ceiling, the US would default, which would be catastrophic for the fiscal security of this country. An article from Center of American Progress detailed the worse case sinero if the debt ceiling is not raised.
The budgetary consequences of this conservative pledge would be catastrophic and far-reaching, forcing the immediate cessation of more than 40 percent of all federal government activities (excluding only interest payments on the national debt), including Social Security, military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, homeland security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance. This would not only threaten the safety and economic security of all Americans, but also have dire impacts for the economy and job growth.
In short, the economic consequences of such a large and precipitous drop in spending would be crushing, and almost certainly result in a severe drop in economic growth and employment at a time when we can least afford it.
Therefore, just as a budget MUST be passed, the debt limit MUST be increased. However, just as Republicans (who now have substantial power) fought to get as much as they could from the democrats in the budget battle, Republicans once again see this as an opportunity to win over concessions from the democrats. And the fact is Republicans, who were elected because of their promise of being committed to fiscal responsibility, are going to demand a lot
To depict how Republicans are setting up the debate, here is a statement from the Senate Republican Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell after a budget deal was announced on Friday.
The President has asked us to raise the debt ceiling. And Senate Republicans and House Republicans and I hope many Democrats as well are going to say, Mr. President, in order to raise the debt ceiling, we need to do something significant about the debt. My definition of significant is that the markets view it as significant, the American people view it as significant and foreign countries view it as significant.
And the stern position from Republican congressional leadership continued this weekend with the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. In a clip show of Mr. Boehner speaking to Republican donors at a fundraiser, he said:
Well guess what Mr. President, not a chance you’re going to get a clean bill…There will not be an increase in the debt limit without something really, really big attached to it
The White House, presumably in response to the Republican threats(or promises), has announced the President will lay out a long-term deficit reduction plan in a speech this Wednesday. I can promise you that whatever plan he lays out (even if it mirrors their plan), Republicans will shout that its not enough, and democrats will say they have met Republicans half way, and the American people will once again be forced to await another intense congressional negotiation. America, welcome to yet another game of chicken.
But wait, there’s more. Once the game of chicken over the debt ceiling ends, a new debate will begin, one over the budget for 2012. You may be thinking, “oh, we have until the rest of the year to work on that,” but sorry you’re wrong. First, the deal that was just passed only keeps the government funded through the rest of the fiscal year(through September 30). To add to the drama, the FY 2012 budget that the Republicans released last Monday, differs from the president by about 6.2 TRILLION dollars. The republican budget includes dramatic changes to Medicaid (characterized by Republicans as Welfare reform), Medicare, and even Social Security. And as to be expected, Republicans tout their proposal as the first serious proposal, and democrats insist these reforms are misguided and threaten the social safety net of America.
The game of chicken continues, except instead of it being two cars, now its with two tractor trailers. The debate over the 2011 budget pales in comparison to the debates that lie ahead. These are debates that have the power fundamentally change the role and scope of government and the services it provides to its citizens. I hope your ready!