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Because the Bible Tells Me So: Why Bachmann and Tea Party Christians Opposed Raising the Debt Ceiling

Some of the worst brinksmanship in the debt ceiling fight was driven by the most far-right members of the GOP majority in the House of Representatives.
 
 
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It's a deal not even its parents could love, but if Congress manages to pass the plan to lift the debt ceiling arrived at last night by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders, the United States of America will manage to have avoided default on its debt -- for the price of deep cuts to public programs.

In a scheme designed to cut $2.4 trillion in spending, the plan devised by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with buy-in from House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, relies on a special bipartisan, bicameral committee of Congress to meet certain spending-cut targets, with the threat of automatic across-the-board cuts to everything from social programs* (including Medicare) to defense spending if Congress does not act. (You can see the PowerPoint presentation Boehner sent out to his caucus here [PDF]; note that the Washington Post's Ezra Klein says the speaker's wrong when he asserts the plan does not allow for the raising of revenue.) If Congress passes the plan, it should push the next action needed on the debt ceiling to after the 2012 presidential election.

Dubbed a "compromise" by the White House, the deal looks like more of a grand capitulation than a grand bargain, effectively handing the Republicans a reward for dangling the economy off a cliff with their refusal to raise the limit on the amount of debt the nation could assume. It's not "the deal that I would have preferred," the president said while making a brief statement in the White House press room. The brinksmanship was driven by the most far-right members of the GOP majority in the House of Representatives, who embarrassed Boehner earlier in the week with their refusal to support a deal that would have given them nearly everything they demanded. That required Boehner to come back with a bill that seemed designed to waste time and bring the U.S. that much closer to default: it contained a requirement for passage of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which led to its predictable rejection by the Senate.

'A Sugar-Coated Satan Sandwich'

As last night's agreement was shaping up, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus described it "shady" -- a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich." He did not rule out, however, the possibility of the CBC supporting it -- apparently because the price for keeping the economy from crashing on all Americans just may be the devil's ransom.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the far-right members of the Republican caucus will go for a deal that could, theoretically, cut defense spending. And then there are those even further to the right, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the Republican presidential contender and chair of the House Tea Party Caucus, for whom the devil isn't simply in the details -- it's in the point of focus of the bill itself, its organizing principal, the thing that was used to create the hostage-taking crisis in the first place: the lifting of the debt ceiling.

Even some of the more right-wing members of the notoriously right-wing GOP House caucus began to get nervous last week, as the tick-tock of the doomsday default clock grew ever louder. The stock market had fallen every day, posting its worst week in more than a year, with the Dow dropping 4.2 percent for the week. Christine Lagarde, the newly appointed chief of the International Monetary Fund, warned, “A crisis in the US faith and credit has global implications.” By Thursday, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., House Budget Committee chairman and author of the draconian budget named for him, fell in line behind Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, ready to back his plan to lift the debt. So did House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Va., who had give the speaker a serious case of agita during the latter's negotiations with the White House, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Calif.

 
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