It's crunch time in the protracted, unconscionable hostage-taking of the normally pro forma raising of the nation's debt ceiling. Republicans have been using the federal government's need to raise its credit limit as an excuse to demand trillions of dollars in service cuts and tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy, and President Barack Obama has jumped on their bandwagon.
The federal government must raise its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling to continue funding operations, sending out Social Security and Medicare checks, and paying existing obligations. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has set an Aug. 2 deadline, after which the government will not be able to meet its obligations or roll over debt, sending the nation into default and global bond markets and financial systems into catastrophic cascade failure.
Meanwhile, slashing government spending, entitlements and eliminating stimulus will plunge the nation into a second recession.
During his address to the nation last weekend, Obama alarmingly embraced Republican boilerplate rhetoric on taxes, budgets and growth, saying, "Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can't afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs."
Then, he turned around and horrified Democrats by blithely announcing he would slash $500 billion from Medicare, $250-$350 billion from non-health entitlements, and blend the myriad formulas used to figure federal and state Medicaid contributions to slash $100 billion from that program.
Princeton Economist and Nobel Prize Laureate Paul Krugman was appalled, and wrote:
"No, government shouldn't budget the way families do; on the contrary, trying to balance the budget in times of economic distress is a recipe for deepening the slump. Spending cuts right now wouldn't "put the economy on sounder footing." They would reduce growth and raise unemployment. And last but not least, businesses aren't holding back because they lack confidence in government policies; they're holding back because they don't have enough customers - a problem that would be made worse, not better, by short-term spending cuts."Possibly, the extended hostage situation has given Obama a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome. Or not. Obama has long enjoyed the support of Wall Street and corporate America, and now openly cleaves to the Republican agenda: more tax cuts for the wealthy, paid for by more service cuts on everyone else.
Obama wants to make the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, slash corporate tax rates, and appears determined to slash core entitlements to pay for those tax expenditures.
If, instead of Neville Chamberlain, the British had sent Barack Obama to parlay with Hitler, instead of the "Peace for our time" speech, you would have gotten the "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.
Chamberlain's heinous weakness was roundly and rightly denounced as the worst kind of appeasement. But Chamberlain never strapped on a swastika armband and gave the Luftwaffe clearance to land at Croydon.
Democrats and Independents were not amused.
"I have talked to some of my colleagues," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT),"including some you might not expect, who say if (the Administration) bring to the Senate a piece of crap that comes down heavy on working families and children and the elderly and they expect me to matter-of-factly vote for it, they'll have another thing coming."
Sanders vowed the other thing would be a filibuster.
"I do worry the White House is misreading the Senate," said namesake Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). "There has not been enough communication to alleviate that misreading."
Obama's scheme to cook Social Security's cost-of-living adjustments would slash benefits by an average of $1,000 per year over twenty years, Sanders warned, and pointed out that candidate Obama had promised not to touch the COLA formula.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) met privately with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden Friday morning, then addressed her caucus. Pelosi had been frozen out of budget talks during this Spring's government-shutdown hostage drama, and wasn't about to let that happen again.
"The (Democrats) cheered Pelosi when she said she was not going to back up," said Congressional Black Caucus leader Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) of Pelosi's announcement that House Democrats had drawn a line in the sand on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"I'm not really concerned about the political implications of entitlement cuts," Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) told The Politico. "I'm concerned about the real-life implications for hard-working Americans who depend on these programs."
"Social Security did not cause our deficit," agreed Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN). "It needs to be protected, not attacked so Republicans can preserve tax cuts for millionaires."
"Don't insult us," Pelosi told Obama budget director Jack Lew. "You don't know how to count."
"You need the Democratic Caucus to pass this," explained Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), who figured Obama and his Republican cohort would need at least 100 Democratic Legislators to get any debt ceiling deal through the House. Pelosi and House Dems frozen out of this Spring's government-shutdown budget talks had been forced to vote for a deal they hadn't been consulted on just to bail out Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) when the Republican leader couldn't muster the 218 votes he needed. Obama and Boehner need Democratic votes again, since so many Republicans were so deluded they promised not to raise the debt ceiling under any conditions.
Tea Party brainiac and caucus leader Michele Bachmann (R-MN) vowed she "will not vote to increase the debt ceiling," a completely predictable position for someone who thinks nine-year-old John Quincy Adams freed the slaves.
But, even Michele Bachmann, or any other Republican, hadn't suggested cuts to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for a debt ceiling hike. Even those recidivist plutocrat-coddlers had been clever enough to steer clear of politics' third rails after poking a track with Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare Couponization scheme and getting their hair frizzed by a sizzling jolt.
Obama thought up slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid all by his lonesome. With Friday's jobs report showing the economy adding a minuscule 18,000 jobs last month and unemployment rising to 9.2%, Obama thought up channelling Herbert Hoover as the way to prosperity all on his own.
"With all this money the private sector has," said Rep. John Larson (D-CT), referring to the nearly $2 trillion cash horde corporate America is already sitting on, "we keep hearing from the other side, 'We're going to cut our way to prosperity.' How has that helped this economy?"
It hasn't, and now that other side has Barack Hussein Obama.