It's possible that the greatest villain in this whole debt ceiling spectacle is Grover Norquist, president of the right-wing group Americans for Tax Reform.
Norquist has bullied Republicans into taking increasingly extreme positions on economic policy for years, but he may have finally outdone himself. His latest stunt is the militant, anti-tax pledge he intimidated House Republicans into signing, and which now threatens to cause severe damage to the U.S. economy.
Ultimately, the debt ceiling will be raised and the U.S. will not default, but this idiotic game the GOP is playing could hurt our credit rating, raising interest rates, freezing borrowing and triggering economic chaos. Rating agencies Moody's and S&P have both said they may downgrade America's credit ratings because of this circus.
Yet Republicans, including some presidential candidates, have invited disaster. Rep. Michele Bachmann insists default would be no big deal, and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he "hopes and prays" the debt ceiling isn't raised.
The debt ceiling has been raised about 70 times over the past 50 years, and never before has a party held a gun to the country's head, as the GOP is now doing.
According to the polls, an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with the president and the Democrats that any debt solution should involve both cuts and revenues, and even a plurality of Republican voters hold that position.
But ideologues like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor refuse to budge one bit to the chagrin of more sensible members of his party like Speaker John Boehner, who admitted he was "pissed" when Cantor and House Republicans turned down an astonishing offer from the White House that would have cut $4 trillion over the next decade in exchange for very modest tax increases on the rich and corporations.
President Obama even agreed to some Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts — a major concession coming from a Democratic president, but the Tea Party fanatics were too dumb and recalcitrant to take yes for an answer. In fact, the Obama-Boehner deal had three dollars of cuts for every dollar of tax increases, which is more conservative than the tough-love proposal of the Bowles-Simpson debt commission. Just a couple of years ago such a deal would have been eagerly celebrated on the right as a major conservative Republican coup, yet now it's not enough.
It's also important to remember that most of our debt was built up under Republicans. They managed to squander a record surplus with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Medicare Part D, $2.3 billion in tax cuts for the rich that were never paid for, and the bailout money to big banks that occurred underGeorge Bush.
Yet Republicans claim it's an Obama spending spree that got us into this mess, and insist on perpetuating the myth that this debate is somehow linked to employment. Both Reagan and Clinton raised taxes and the country saw 20 percent job growth during each presidency, yet under the holy Republican tax-rates of the Bush years, we essentially saw zero growth. The tired claim that miniscule increases in the tax rate hinder job growth is demonstrably false. And slashing short-term spending during a fragile economic recovery is one of the worst things a government can do. There are half a million fewer government jobs today than when Obama took office. How will cutting more improve the unemployment rate?
Republicans would be wise to remember their hero Ronald Reagan, whose deficit-reduction plan was evenly split between spending cuts and revenue increases. Obama's plan is 80-20 in favor of cuts. Maybe it's liberals who should be fondly reminiscing about the Reagan Era from now on.