Government Shutdown Insanity

Do House Republicans actually want to shut down the government? Michael Tomasky fears that is the case.

01.15.13 9:45 AM ET

This tweet, which arrived midafternoon yesterday from the redoubtable @LOLGOP, really does say it all: “The GOP is rebranding itself from a party that accidentally blows up the world economy to one that purposely blows up the world economy.” How quaint today seem George W. Bush and his economic minions, with their endearing good intentions! We learn now from Politico that the current crop is ready to take the country, and the world, down to the gates of hell. Many of them have now passed the point of wanting to get their way. On some twisted level, they want not to get their way—to blow up the building just to see what happens.

There is no other rational way to interpret the following quote from the Politico piece, which is by the way another of those textbook Politico pieces in which the entire moral universe of these debates consists of little more than perception and positioning. If Politico had been around in 1934, it would have been entirely capable of sentences like, “Even the young chancellor’s opponents, while citing his maneuver’s apparent illegality, concede that his move to wrest power from the ailing von Hindenberg may prove to be a political masterstroke.”

In any case, it seems that many Republicans are willing to risk default for the sake of making their point. But if somehow John Boehner folds on default and helps the president and the Senate prevent it, he may at least have to throw his rabids the bone of a government shutdown. “We might need to do that,” a GOP aide said, “for member-management purposes—so they have an endgame and can show constituents they’re fighting.”

We’ve all read plenty of cuckoo quotes from these people, but please, I implore you to read that one again. It deserves to occupy a place of honor in your memory banks. They’ll deny people Social Security and veterans’ checks for member-management purposes?

Boehner, Politico reports, is to meet with all House Republicans later this week down in Williamsburg where he “will walk them through the political and economic consequences of default.” Well, that’s nice. But Boehner has done this before. Robert Draper, in his book Do Not Ask What Good We Do, about the 2010 House class, recorded just such a moment back in the summer of 2011. An economist who had served in Bush’s Treasury Department described to them what would happen in August if they failed to raise the debt limit. Draper paraphrased: “The Treasury would be taking in $172 billion. Its obligations that month would be $306 billion, a shortfall of $134 billion. After first paying the interest, enough money would be left over to pay approximately half the bills. It would be left to the Obama administration to determine winners and losers. As a factual matter … it would be impossible to pay the troops in the field and all Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits at the same time. Institutions such as federal prisons would simply have to be shut down. The average American’s home mortgage rate would skyrocket.”

That time, of course, Armageddon was avoided. The Budget Control Act of 2011 raised the debt limit in exchange for $917 billion in cuts. The Republicans won. Even so, interestingly, 66 out of 240 of them voted no! Now suppose this time Obama beats Boehner: Obama refuses to negotiate, and Boehner tries to stand tough, but pressure from the public and the corporate overlords is such that he backs down on default. What will happen?

If we happen to be this lucky, a bill increasing the debt ceiling will pass the House with almost all Democrats and 30 or so sane Republicans. But then circle March 27 on your calendar. That’s when Congress has to pass bills refunding the executive agencies of the government. If Obama has won on the debt limit, the wingers will be blind with rage. You think they’re going to pass spending bills after that?

You know how when you hear the long screech of a car braking for several seconds you’re a bit disappointed if you don’t hear the crash right after it? Well, that’s where House Republicans are now, in psychological terms. The brakes are screeching in their ears. They have been since 2011. The brakes have been screeching so long that they’re itching for the wreck to happen, just to make their point, just to see what goes down, just to say to Barack Obama and The New York Times and mainstream economists and the reality-based community across America that, no, they don’t care. They want to hear the glass shatter and the metal twist.

They’ve been wanting to force a catastrophe, really, since the day Obama was first sworn in. They can’t abide the fact that he is president, they can’t believe he beat them a second time, and they live in a world that the other two thirds of the country doesn’t live in. And yet they have the power to drag us all down to their level. One hopes not for long.