Janet Yellen may be physically small in stature, but she still shatters glass ceilings (first woman Chair of the Federal Reserve, first woman Secretary of the Treasury). The ceiling she is fixated on now, however, is the United States debt ceiling. As Treasury Secretary she is trying to remain patient, pointing to all the red blinking lights on the dashboard of the economy – an economy, she warns, that is about to suffer a grievous self-inflicted wound by the actions and inactions of Congress.
The debt ceiling was reached months ago and Yellen began executing “extraordinary” financial maneuvers in order to delay the moment when the government of the United States of America goes into financial default, unable to pay its bills, including monthly support payments to millions of military veterans and 66 million Social Security recipients.
To be clear: this can be fixed now by Congress. Congress is not acting.
The fiscal cliff is coming in days. Yellen’s workarounds are about to stop working. The US almost plunged over this in 2011 thanks to Republicans basically saying they were going to prevent the US from paying the bills that Congress had already authorized. Republicans call themselves budget hawks – but in fact, the debt ceiling law, passed in 1917 to allow the US government to rack up war debt, shows a radically different story.
The debt ceiling has been raised some 78 times, 29 times under a Democrat administration and a whopping 49 times by Republican leadership. It is done as a matter of course, in order to simply account for spending already debated by and approved by Congress. Congress voted to raise it three times when Trump was in the White House, but when a Democrat is president, suddenly the Republicans get in touch with their fiscal prudence.
Kevin McCarthy is hostage to a small group of far-right “Freedom Caucus” members that blocked his ascendence to the Speaker of the House for a historical record 15 votes until he agreed to their outrageous demands, including a Trump-encouraged condition that McCarthy block lifting the debt ceiling unless Biden agrees to slash spending on all the items most important to working families and our one and only environment.
Of course Trump would be nonchalant about not paying bills. Six of his businesses have gone bankrupt and he’s had many other financial failures, plus his reputation as a charlatan who stiffs honest workers who have done work for him. While promising at his 2016 campaign rallies, and in several places on his website, that he would build a “beautiful wall” for more than 1,000 miles across the US southern border and that Mexico would pay for it, his claims were, as usual, lies. Some of his wall was built and you paid for it if you are a taxpayer in America.
Now he is encouraging a wall between the US government and the financial well-being of seniors on fixed incomes, people with disabilities, military veterans (whom he has called losers), and the working poor. His politics of greed and cruel fraud are now the Republican brand.
Biden has indicated that, despite his own promise not to negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States, he is in fact sending staff to do just that, with some serious future budget proposals that would cut the US debt by some $3 trillion over the coming decade. Fiscal hawks should love the plan, and that is how the most rightwing Republicans characterize themselves, starting with the Tea Party some 13 years ago and continuing now as the so-called Freedom Caucus.
But of course they have thrown up an instant wall against Biden’s proposal because his ideas would roll back some of the greedy gains Republicans got under Trump and McConnell that slashed taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations. Plus, Biden proposes reducing some of the “socialism for the rich,” and drying up some of the massive subsidies enjoyed by Big Oil and Big Pharma, two of the biggest welfare queens in US history.
And of course, neither party will consider reducing the number one discretionary budget item, the Pentagon budget. Weapons systems are enormously expensive, and really, does the US need to dominate the entire world, with hundreds of military bases on other countries’ sovereign soil, 18 Ohio-class Trident submarines patrolling the seven seas all the way from under the polar icecap to the benthos bordering China and Russia? Do we need to control space?
As just one DoD expense example, Congress could reduce more of the fixed-target nuclear missiles that are a bigger threat to US citizens than to anyone else, and save the $billions proposed to build and install some 400 new LGM-35A Sentinel ground-launched nuclear missiles. Before the first one is even built, the Biden budget includes about $4 billion just for some plans. Overall, the US is headed for a trillion-dollar military budget. Supporters of that excessive spending claim it’s a small share of the US Gross Domestic Product, but if the Republicans send the US economy into freefall, that percentage shifts much higher, and it’s already half of the money that isn’t committed to trust funds.
Ultimately, the US voters will decide if allowing politicians who support the destruction of Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits should be re-elected. In the very short run, at least, we might want to remind those elected officials that we are watching.
Written by Dr. Tom H. Hastings, who is Coördinator of Conflict Resolution BA/BS degree programs and certificates at Portland State University, PeaceVoice Senior Editor, and on occasion an expert witness for the defense of civil resisters in court.