John Boehner’s alternative reality

The New York Times had an excellent editorial about just how out of touch with reality modern Republicans are. Apparently, many Republican politicians are not just opposing raising the debt limit as a way to win ideological brownie points. They actually don’t believe a default will happen if the debt limit isn’t raised. They go so far as to doubt the numbers of the Treasury Department, claiming that, as a part of Obama’s executive branch, it can’t be trusted.

How can so many Republican lawmakers justify pushing their country toward catastrophic default just to score ideological points? The answer can be found in their statements and writings: They are constructing an alternative reality far different from that of most Americans.

A large number of Republican lawmakers, for example, simply don’t accept that the United States is going to be in default as of Tuesday. (Wall Street banks say the nation will run out of money within a few days of that date.)

The Treasury Department, which keeps the government bankbook, set the Aug. 2 deadline, but they say it cannot be trusted because it is an arm of the Obama administration.

These are, of course, extreme positions, though it’s frighteningly common in the Republican party. I have no doubt that most Republicans are fighting the extension of the debt limit purely for political reasons (I’m not sure which position is worse). The benefit they get from fighting this routine procedure is two-fold: one, they get to go back to their tea party base and brag about how they attempted to stop the rise of the debt limit, and the tea baggers eat it up because they’re confused about what raising the debt limit actually does (more on that later), and two, if the debt limit isn’t raised and the US government goes into default, there will likely be a serious economic crisis, which (if they spin it right) will be politically beneficial to the Republicans and harm Obama’s chance of reelection.

Basically, this isn’t about the economy at all. It’s about Obama.

In [Republican Speaker of the House] Mr. Boehner’s alternative reality, by the way, it just popped into Mr. Obama’s head to ask for “the largest debt increase in American history, on the heels of the largest spending binge in American history.” The president was required to ask for an increase by law, and the spending was mostly incurred by his Republican predecessor.

I actually doubt Boehner believes this stuff, at least not in the same way that I can imagine (for example) Michele Bachmann actually buying into these nonsensical arguments. Remember, this is the guy who pretends to be a “Washington outsider” despite having been the stereotypical Washington insider for 20 years. This is the guy who was caught red-handed handing out checks from Tobacco industry lobbyists, and immediately pretended he was actually trying to stop it.

At any rate, many average Americans oppose increasing the debt ceiling. I suspect this is largely because they don’t understand what it is.

The underlying issue is simple: If you spend your income on things you want, and the charges then show up the following month on your credit card bill, would you pay those charges? Yes, of course you would. You’ve made purchases and the bill has come due.

That’s the whole question about raising the debt limit—whether Congress should allow the government to pay for spending that has already been approved by Congress. (Remember, it is Congress that authorizes all federal spending.) The answer, of course, is yes.

Basically, the issue of whether or not to raise the debt limit isn’t about new spending, but about money we’ve already spent. If we don’t raise the limit, the US will not be able to fulfill obligations it has already agreed to.

Raising the debt limit is a routine thing. Reagan and Bush did it numerous times. I’m amazed at how Republicans have managed to twist this into a grand fight against government spending. The same people who adamantly supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and who enthusiastically argued for the Bush tax cuts are now trying to position themselves as “fiscally responsible” by deciding that we not pay our bills.

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