Anyone disgusted by the way the debt ceiling mess played out and worried about what it means for our future should consider what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on CNBC as the final deal was approved: “This is just the first step. ... Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order.”
In other words, if voters are turned off now, wait until Republicans hold the country hostage again. We have entered a very dangerous new age — we could almost call it a nuclear age — of American politics, and it only took one party controlling one chamber of Congress to make it happen.
Voters are right to ask how this helps them. This debacle hasn’t created any jobs or made small businesses any more successful, and it certainly hasn’t made the American people feel happier or more financially secure. But it’s done wonders for my Republican colleagues in Congress. They already felt empowered to hold their breath until they got their way. Now they’ll run in 2012 on how bad they’ve made the economy — they’ll take credit for any good news that comes along and blame Democrats for the rest. You heard it here first.
What we’re seeing now isn’t a debate between equally reasonable positions. We’re seeing one side bending over backward to accommodate its counterpart and the other side willing to destroy any chance of economic recovery in order to win the next election.
In other words, this isn’t really about how to work together to invest scarce resources or how to balance tax rates with spending priorities. Republicans are playing winner-take-all with millions of American jobs and livelihoods as their game pieces.
If voters were ever consulted, Congress would have been working to create jobs all year. Some of my progressive House colleagues and I went on a multicity jobs tour during the summer, listening to the stories of working people, unemployed people, family people, single people, all asking us how the economy failed them through no fault of their own but keeps working for CEOs making a hundred times their own salaries.
This is the “real America” we keep hearing about. It’s been conveniently forgotten by my Republican colleagues. They’re intent on protecting wealthy individuals and corporations from contributing to our economic recovery, calculating — I hope incorrectly — that campaign cash is more important than working families’ well-being on Election Day.
The terms of this non-debate tell the whole story. Republicans tell us we have to “stop spending” and “be responsible” because it’s the only way we’ll succeed in the long run. They’ve cut spending, all right: spending on education, nutrition for low-income families and children, and health coverage. This year’s budget cuts more than $500 million in federal emergency grants to firefighters.
But when it comes to our clearly exhausted wars overseas, the top tax rates or expensive corporate subsidies, it’s hands off. Republicans have invented the term “job creators” as a special category of people — the very wealthy — who can’t be criticized, questioned or asked to contribute.
American political history is full of hard moments and turning points. As long as we’ve had a federal government, we’ve had occasion to wonder whether our democracy could meet the next challenge. We have just lived through such an occasion, and unfortunately, it’s not over. If Republicans get their way, it will never be over. We will govern by crisis until voters are even more fed up than they are now.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.