House Republicans on Friday narrowly approved legislation authorizing a limited increase in the $14.3 trillion debt limit in exchange for more than $900 billion in spending cuts. The 218-210 vote occurred nearly a full day after it was originally scheduled as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed to revise the legislation to win enough conservative support to carry the House.
The problem, of course, is that the bill is considered to be unpassable as-is in the Senate. Similarly, Sen. Reid's plan in the Senate is in roughly the same situation, only in reverse. There are a lot of things that need to be hacked out in between both houses of Congress right now, and only a few days left to do it in.
Speculation seems to indicate that the way forward to reconcile them is likely to be some sort of automatic trigger to cut specific programs, if other cuts had not already been passed by then. The idea seems to be that this will encourage quick movement on entitlements and taxes. Which, I suppose if guaranteeing massive cuts to vital programs is your bag, then it's a great idea.
As we've discussed in this space before though, it's a terrible idea, especially now. With consumer spending still lagging badly, unemployment and poor job creation persisting, and a general lack of any way out of that crisis right now, slashing spending is an atrocious idea. It's especially bad if it targets programs like Social Security, or if it targets Pell Grants, unemployment benefits, or anything else that is generally geared towards the lower and middle classes.
Unfortunately for us, it seems almost inevitable that we are either going to hit the ceiling (and thus not be able to spend any money at all on a lot of programs), or cut essential services in order to strike a deal. Revenue, of course, was never really on the table. I get the feeling that some members of Congress don't know what revenue actually is, or if they do, they think it's something you magically get when you cut taxes. The Laffer Curve, of course, was always really a hypothetical; otherwise there would be a mathematical optimum tax rate that was actually known and we could just go with it. That such a rate appears to be unknown in voodoo economics circles underscores the uselessness of such theories.
What we're left with is a debate that is essentially insane. In order to prevent economic collapse, we are forced to choose from a series of plans that will at best entrench the recession further, and at worst...create an economic collapse. Ideological concerns have firmly trumped any sane sort of economic theory, perhaps even permanently. And we're all worse off for it.
So if you're angry about impending Social Security or Medicare cuts, if you're worried about whether you'll ever be able to get federal student loans again, if you're a veteran expecting your benefits to be given out and afraid that the government you fought for is going to renege on their agreement with you...there might not be a way to stop it. There could be a way to fix it again after the fact though. As soon as 2012, in fact, you could help prevent this kind of thing from happening again, and pave the way for it to be fixed after the fact.
If that appeals to you, then this is what we do: let's get every Republican thrown out of office when the time comes.