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The Week

(Roman Genn)



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We wouldn’t be surprised if they lip-synched the oath of office, too.

House Republican leaders have announced that they will raise the debt ceiling enough to let the federal government continue to borrow for a few more months, provided that Senate Democrats finally produce a budget (which they have not done since 2009). The extension will give the parties time to negotiate over legislation to fund the government for the next year, and over whether to replace the automatic spending cuts that are starting soon. The Republicans say that they will not grant a longer-term increase in the debt ceiling without budget reforms and cuts. We hope they are not bluffing but fear that they are. They may be hesitating because of the potential economic cost of a struggle over the debt ceiling. One way to reduce that cost would be to pass a bill that stipulates that even if the ceiling is hit, the federal government may continue to borrow to service its existing debts. (Rolling over debt can involve a small amount of additional borrowing.) The threat of default on older debts would be off the table permanently, which the Democrats can hardly lament. Hitting the debt ceiling would still be a painful experience for both parties, since the spending cuts that followed would be drastic, rapid, and indiscriminate, but more deliberate spending cuts, made in advance, would be a ready solution to that problem. House Republicans should pass this bill, and get back in the fight.

As the price of accepting the temporary debt-limit extension, conservatives in the House demanded that the House leaders commit to a plan to balance the budget in the next ten years. They say that they will, and the budget looks easier to balance now than it did a year or two ago — mainly because the Congressional Budget Office is projecting higher economic growth, and not so much because of recent budget deals. Which suggests that spending cuts, as important as they are, should not be allowed to swallow up the rest of the conservative economic agenda.

Amusement gave way to bemusement as we witnessed a strange idea gain currency, as it were, among a class of pundits and Twitterers who found the standoff over the debt ceiling too tedious to bear. In an odd alcove of federal law meant to enable the minting of commemorative specie for numismatists, they purported to discover the authority for the Treasury to strike a trillion-dollar-denominated platinum coin, which could be deposited directly into government accounts at the Federal Reserve, bypassing the need to issue new debt — not to mention the Republican House. Leave to one side the dubious legality of this device. And forget the possible inflationary consequences. What about the politics? The proponents of “minting the Coin” claimed it was part modest proposal, part legitimate escape hatch to avoid default, and part absurd response to equally absurd Republican obstinacy. Politics ain’t Dada. Still, we agree it would have been quite the spectacle to see the president print twelve zeroes on a souped-up nickel and use it to Win the Future. Alas, the Republican party is no luckier in 2013 than it was in 2012, and the executive dismissed the platinum plot, banishing it back to Twitter.

What is that whining sound, like a distant buzz saw? Could it be Colin Powell? Just the other day he said, of the GOP, that “there is a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. . . . They still sort of look down on minorities.” He indicts Romney spokesman John Sununu for calling Obama’s first debate performance a sign of laziness, which Powell takes to be a racial slur. In fact, Powell’s career was cherished by the GOP — specifically, by Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes — like a Fabergé egg: national-security adviser, chairman of the joint chiefs, secretary of state. Republicans might well have made him the first black president, had he run. We mean no racial slight in saying that, in this controversy, it is Powell who is being lazy, and cheap.


Pages

Contents
February 11, 2013    |     Volume LXV, No. 2

Articles
Features
Books, Arts & Manners
  • Mackubin Thomas Owens reviews Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, by Max Boot.
  • Ronald Radosh reviews Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956, by Anne Applebaum.
  • David G. Dalin reviews Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism, by Gil Troy.
  • Robert VerBruggen reviews The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond.
  • Andrew Stuttaford reviews Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium, by Mark Edward.
  • Ross Douthat reviews Zero Dark Thirty.
Sections
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .