GELFAND’S WORLD - When it came to the Debt Ceiling, none of my fellow Americans seemed to be all that worried. Sure, the Republicans were engaging in hostage taking, but I cannot remember when people were less concerned. Nobody on the Democratic side so much as blinked. Oh, sure, there were the usual serious minded pundits who recited ritualistic warnings about mass economic devastation, but the rest of us listened politely and then went on about our business.
That's because nobody really expected that the Republicans would carry out their threat, and nobody really expected that Joe Biden would shut his door to Kevin McCarthy. It was all a bluff.
How did we all know? Because the Republicans have done this same thing every other time they got a momentary majority in the House of Representatives. They always threaten to destroy the liberal underpinnings of the U.S. government, and when they run up against resistance, they threaten that if they can't get their way on liberalism, they will just shut down the whole thing and this time, they really really really will force a debt default.
And they have never managed to force that default. They either shut the government down or they don't, but every time they do, it costs them politically. And, there are always enough votes among the two parties to avoid a debt default.
So by now, this threat to default on the debt by playing chicken with the debt limit has grown stale.
Of course the Republicans griped and moaned. The Food Stamp recipients were the problem. Yeah, sure. Tell that to midwestern farmers who rely on that income. They also wanted to abolish the ability of the IRS to enforce tax collection on the ultra-rich. They wanted lots of things.
I guess you could say that Kevin McCarthy blinked. Oh, sure, McCarthy got to brag that he had forced Joe Biden into a negotiation, but it's what comes out of a negotiation that counts, not the fact that McCarthy got a chance to pose for a picture in the Oval Office.
When push came to shove, McCarthy folded like a restaurant take-out menu. And that's not such a bad thing. If he had stuck with the ultra-right-wing caucus, now that would have been a bad thing. The caucus appears to have gotten a slight reduction in IRS funding, so there is that little bit of a win for them.
It remains to be seen whether a few of those right wing caucus members hold back their votes so as to prevent the House Republicans from presenting a majority coalition. This is likely. Then, it remains to be seen how many Democrats vote on the same side as the majority Republicans. Perhaps the House Democrats will split their votes, allowing the more left leaning edge of the party to protest too.
What's most likely is that some House majority will be cobbled together, Democrats to support the necessary work of government, Republicans to support McCarthy's cave.
There is a curious historical parallel. Back when Newt Gingrich came up with the idea of holding the whole country hostage to the House Republicans, it came down to negotiations between Gingrich and President Bill Clinton. And Gingrich not only blinked, he was intimidated by Clinton to the extent that he was never able to best him in a negotiation after that. At least that's what Gingrich's Republican colleagues muttered to reporters.
If you happen to check Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo, you will see an analysis that suggests one other possibility: Marshall suggests that Biden knew that even a formal debt default wouldn't really do damage to the economy, because the Federal Reserve has the tools to buy up defaulted bonds should such a default occur, and that would solve the immediate problem. Biden didn't have to give up the bulk of the Democratic wish list, because he knew that even a formal default would not be a true default in its ultimate effects.
Whether Biden mentioned the 14th Amendment, the creation of a one trillion dollar platinum coin, or the Fed buying up defaulted treasury bonds (all of these three being legal), it seems as though the threat to default on the debt ceiling is now fairly obsolete.
Memorial Day and Fleet Week
Each year at this time, the Navy brings ships into the Port of Los Angeles for what is known as Fleet Week. The locals try to be hospitable to visiting sailors, people line up to visit the ships and other presentations, and a good time is had by all.
Well, by almost all.
I ran into an old friend who was wearing a button protesting the presence of the military. I remembered that they do this sort of protest at every Fleet Week. It's not violent or even militant, it's just a statement. This year, it rang a bit hollow because the invasion of Ukraine and the slaughter of its people provides a reminder of what post-war U.S. militarization is about. Sure, it has been misused, and for sure, there are many nations in this world that resent American power and its concomitant influence. And yes, there is a military-industrial complex that has way too much political influence and spends too much of our money. But still, it's nice to not think about being attacked and murdered by foreign invaders.
The anti-military folks like to recite the old line that "you can't simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." (It's attributed to Einstein). I tend to disagree, in the sense that many areas have failed to prepare adequately for war and have then been overrun by barbaric invaders. That is the case in Ukraine right now. In the meanwhile, the NATO countries have avoided any similar Russian invasion during their entire membership in NATO. The point, I should think, is to understand the lessons of the First World War and to live by them; that is to say, have enough of an army to defend oneself from external invasion, and don't be the invader yourself. Mainly, don't make war and glory an end in itself, as some of the European nobility seemed to feel leading up to 1914.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)