Wikipedia defines “crisis” as any event that is, or expected to lead to, an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, community or whole society. After President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, the Democrats controlled the House, Senate and White House. During that time, the President accomplished a myriad of legislative achievements including: the Stimulus, Health Care Reform, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Wall Street Reform, Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, reforming Student Loans and ratifying the Start Treaty, yet not one self-imposed crisis.
When the Republicans took control of the House in January 2011, a new game started – a variety of self-inflicted, pre-planned crisis. By early April 2011, the Republicans first self-inflicted crisis was initiated – a looming government shutdown primarily influenced by Tea Party Republicans because of the controversy surrounding funding for Planned Parenthood. At the last minute, the Party was able to avoid its first crisis.
Three months later, July 2011, the Republican Party initiated another self-inflicted crisis regarding the Debt Ceiling. Again at the last minute, they were able to pass legislation raising the Debt Ceiling but not without an unprecedented cost to the United States – Standard and Poor downgraded the US credit rating.
Less than three months later, September 2011, the Republican Party initiated another self-inflicted crisis threatening another government shutdown. Fortunately, at the last minute, they were able to avert a shut-down by passing a bill to fund the government. The House Republicans took a break for the November 2012 elections and produced no relevant legislation. President Obama was reelected and the Democrats picked up additional seats in the Senate and House but were not able to reestablish a House majority.
One month after the elections, December 2012, the House led by the Tea Party Republicans manufactured another crisis – the fiscal cliff. At the last minute, the House voted to stave off widespread tax increases and deep spending cuts by accepting a brokered Senate compromise. It made permanent the Bush administration’s tax cuts for individuals earning less than $400,000 per year and couples earning less than $450,000. It also raised rates on those who make more than that from 35% to 39.6%, bringing back a top tax bracket from the Clinton administration, and will raise roughly $600 billion in new revenues over 10 years, according to various estimates. The bill also extended unemployment insurance and delays for two months, until March 1, 2012, the threat of sequestration. On March 1, 2012, we are faced with the sequester, another self-inflicted, pre-planned crisis resulting from a 2011 budget agreement.
Republicans and Democrats agreed to raise the debt limit through the Budget Control Act of 2011. The law found approximately $1.2 trillion in budget cuts spread over 10 years but also directed Congress to find another $1.2 trillion through a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which came to be known as “the super-committee.”
This super-committee was to meet and agree on a deficit reduction package by Nov. 23, 2011. Their proposal — which could include tax increases, spending reductions or both — would then get a filibuster-proof, up-or-down vote in Congress. As an incentive to the super-committee, the law included an unusual budget threat: If the super-committee couldn’t agree on a package, or if Congress voted it down, then automatic, across-the-board cuts would go into effect, with half of those cuts hitting defense. These automatic cuts are referred to as “sequestration.” In June 2011, during deliberations of the super-committee, Congressional Republicans abandoned budget talks leaving the outcome in doubt as they vowed not to give in to a Democratic push for new tax revenues as part of any compromise. The breakdown was set off by the surprise decision of House majority leader, Eric Cantor, and one of two Republicans participating, to quit the negotiations. Thus, we are now at the entrance of the most recent self-inflicted, pre-planned crisis thanks to the Republicans.
While Democrats agree that this sequester would be devastating to our economy and National security, Republicans have a mixed response. Senator Orin Hatch says that the sequester will “lead to economic disaster” but Tea Party Senator Rand Paul says that, “its pittance…this is just really nibbling at the edges.” Congressman Jeff Miller says that it will “throw our nation into another recession” but Congressman Tom Price says that it will “get this economy rolling again.” House Speaker John Boehner has said that it “threatens National Security” but Congressman Tom Cole says “fiscal questions trump defense.” Instead of dealing with this crisis, Speaker Boehner gave the House a 10 day vacation.
According to Douglas Elmendorf, CBO Director, the $1.2 trillion across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take place in March could result in the loss of 750,000 jobs in 2013. “We think that would reduce the level of employment by the end of the year [by] about 750,000 jobs,” Elmendorf said in a House budget hearing. The sequester can be avoided if Congress comes up with an $85 billion alternative by March 1; however. Republicans are insisting that tax revenue is off-the-table, while Democrats say a deal must include revenue not just spending cuts. During his State of the Union address, President Obama fueled the battle by accusing Republicans of wanting to shift possible cuts from defense and military spending to social programs. In my view, that is exactly what the Republicans want to do rather than deal with tax loopholes for the wealthy. The 750,000 job loss estimate may be conservative. The Bipartisan Policy Center said recently that as many as one (1) million jobs are at risk if the sequester goes forward because it would pull so much money out of the economy very quickly.
The Republican rationale for not wanting to close tax loop-holes for the wealthy is that they claim that the President already received a tax increase during the fiscal cliff negotiations and want major cuts in entitlement programs even though President Obama has already added over one trillion dollars in spending cuts. What Republicans are not saying is that the tax increase was based on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts only and not really a tax increase. Part of the Republican platform during the 2012 elections was to close tax loopholes, but since President Obama won reelection, Republicans have now reneged. Republicans are also complaining that the President has not offered any plan to avert the sequester; but his plan that reduces the debt sensibly by over four trillion dollars is on the White House website. Here is the link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/deficit_reduction_table_bucketed_r8.pdf
Even if we get through this current crisis with a deal, the Republicans have already orchestrated another crisis – (1) possible Government shut-down by the end of March if a budget or continuing resolution is not passed; and (2) the next Debt ceiling debate in May 2012.
Will Republicans heed the calls of their constituency and offer economic support or compromise in behalf of the American people, probably not since their number one objective is to continue to obstruct the President’s agenda that 51% of the citizens agree with. In a recent poll, congressional Republicans have a 25% approval while the President’s approval is 55%. The Republican Party has apparently ignored the results of the 2012 election when they lost seats in both the Senate and House, and it is my belief that if they continue their obstruction and non-compromising behavior, the House Republicans will be in the minority following the 2014 elections, but that’s just my take.