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Blackmail rarely produces any good.
Never was that more apparent than last week when Congress passed and the president signed legislation pulling the United States back from the brink of defaulting on its debts.
Heretofore, the debt limit had routinely been raised in a straightforward manner, with Congress hiking the limit without other encumbering legislative attachments to frustrate the process.
That is not how it was this time, thanks to the intransigence of that large class of freshman House Republican who demanded that any hike in the debt level must be accompanied by commensurate cuts in spending.
They also insisted that no new revenues could be generated to lower the debt. They wouldn’t even sanction closing scores of notorious special interest tax loopholes.
It was their way or no way, and because no hike in the level of permissible debt could be approved without passing out of the House, these freshmen, overwhelmingly of Tea Party ilk, were able to block any attempt by Speaker John Boehner to negotiate a balanced piece of legislation.
If John Boehner wanted to remain House Speaker, he had to cave to the demands of his Tea Party first-termers. It was blackmail pure and simple. Boehner feigned “negotiations” with the president and the Senate leadership, but nothing he “negotiated” had a prayer if he couldn’t deliver the Republican majority that made him Speaker.
It was amazing. The most inexperienced Republican members of Congress, uncompromising and unfettered by facts, have rendered a Republican House Speaker impotent.
So what the president ended up signing last week simply to avoid default was legislation hardly anyone finds acceptable.
Two members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, Democratic Congressman Ben Ray Lujan and Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, voted against the bill, albeit for totally different reasons.
The three others, all Democrats— Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall and Congressman Martin Heinrich—voted for it holding their noses and trying not to retch.
A “difficult decision between two terrible choices,” said Heinrich of his vote.
The initial increase in the debt ceiling will be offset by over $900 billion in spending cuts—this at a time when government spending is one of the few things keeping us from falling back into recession.
A subsequent hike up to $1.5 trillion will kick in contingent on spending cuts in an equal amount recommended by a specially-contrived congressional committee consisting of six Democrats and six Republicans.
“Super Congress,” wags have dubbed it, and by vesting such authority in just twelve members of Congress, it arguably upends our national legislature’s constitutional balance.
Indeed some critics consider it unconstitutional. Others see it as a “cover congressional butts” contrivance created to give members of Congress something at which to point fingers of blame when called upon to defend unpopular decisions.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, in an agonized statement explaining his vote, had nothing good to say about the bill, other than “it prevents our country from going into financial default, which would be a catastrophe for the economy of the United States and the world.”
Bingaman clearly abhors the process out of which it emerged and fears that “approving the proposal could embolden members of Congress in the future to hold our economy hostage to their demands, and that is a dangerous precedent for the country.”
Blackmail or hostage taking, this affair besmirched our institutions and threatens our fragile economic recovery.
The last time Republican insurgents controlled the U.S. House, they only shut down the government.