July 29, 2011
There's but a lot of confusion out there, so let's get one thing clear about this debt ceiling showdown: The central question is whether the U.S. Congress will allow the U.S. Treasury to raise enough funds to pay for the spending commitments which the Congress has already made. And yet House speaker Boehner is straining with all his persuasive might to get his party members to do just that. Will Congress live up to its preexisting commitments, or will it act like a deadbeat? Why is there even any debate over this? Somehow, the Tea Party faction of the Republican side has convinced itself that voting to raise the debt limit will have something to do with how much the Federal government will spend. How utterly mistaken! The situation in the Senate is no better, as Majority Leader Harry Reid (who was headed for defeat in his reelection bid last fall, ironically saved only by the weak Tea Party-endorsed Republican candidate, Sharon Angle) says Boehner's bill would be "dead on arrival." He insists on a long-term deal, matching the Republicans' intransigence toe to toe. See politico.com.
The House of Representatives and the Senate are engaged in debate at this very moment. Obviously, I hope the Republicans can accomplish the severe budget cuts they are demanding, but I have grave doubts about their high-risk approach, which borders on criminal negligence. No reasonable person could call their "my way or the highway" negotiating stance "fiscally responsible," which is one of the traditional Republican virtues. Sean Hannity keeps scoffing at the idea that there is any fixed deadline for default, while derogating those who seek a balanced approach: "Compromise is what's got us here." Oh, brother... He said this in the context of pinning all the blame on President Obama and the Democrats, conveniently forgetting what happened during the previous administration. Well, false perceptions of reality are likely to lead to faulty policy prescriptions.
UPDATE: Just after 6:00 this evening, the House passed Boehner's bill, on a vote of 218-210 in which all Democrats and 22 Republicans voted "no," even though he went to great lengths to appease the Tea Party faction. He made an impassioned speech on the House floor, decrying the opposition's failure to come up with a counterproposal. It remains to be seen wheter the Senate will pass anything similar to the House bill, which might still forestall a default next week. Unfortunately, one of the lessons from this past week is that there is a substantial contingent of Republicans who actually want to bring about a default. For example, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas (one of the 22) says that might help prevent a worse crisis down the road; see bloomberg.com. That would seem to contradict the complacent view of people like Sean Hannity. Hat tip to Andrew Murphy.
Here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, meanwhile, the Republican Party managed to resolve its internal differences in an amicable way. The Augusta County Republicans held their mass meeting and nominated incumbent County Treasurer Richard Homes, who prevailed over challenger Jason Bibeau. The office of Treasurer does not make policy, and merely carries out the county government's financial transactions, but somehow the local anti-tax movement led by attorney Francis Chester (see March 2009) got the idea that they could advance their cause by controlling that office. Mr. Chester is closely affiliated to the self-styled "grassroots" faction of Republicans led by Kurt Michael, who is running for the county Board of Supervisors (see May 25) and Lynn Mitchell. (Note: the newspaper article cited in that blog post erred by switching the districts that Michael and fellow "grassrooter" David Karaffa; Michael is running in the Wayne District, and Karaffa is running in Beverley Manor.) Chester recently spoke to the Shenandoah Tea Party.
Augusta Republican Chairman Bill Shirley chaired the meeting, in which a total of 202 registered voters participated, but the vote totals were never announced. While we were waiting and listening to other local officials make short speeches, Mr. Bibeau abruptly asked the assembled group to support Mr. Homes, conceding the election. It was a very graceful gesture, standing in stark contrast to the way the Republicans tore themselves apart in 2008. Maybe the "grassroots" have learned their lessons from the past and are starting to mature.
While observing the mass meeting, I had the pleasure to meet (or get reacquainted with) several Republican activists and candidates, including Jamie Radtke, who is running for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate next year. She is a leader of Tea Party Patriots in Virginia and spoke to the meeting, as did another candidate for that office, Jim Donner, who also stressed constitutional, limited government principles. The leading candidate George Allen Jr. was unable to attend, however. See www.RadtkeForSenate.com.
Among the speakers at the GOP mass meeting was State Senator Emmett Hanger, who talked about how the redistricting process had changed his constituency. The 24th Senate District has changed dramatically, losing all of Highland County and parts of Rockbridge and Albemarle Counties [it formerly included], while gaining all of Madison County and nearly all of Culpeper County, far to the east. As the following map shows, the district is now badly stretched, and in my view does not come close to meeting the requirement of the Virginia Constitution that "Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory..." It would appear that the Democratic majority in the State Senate has gotten away with flagrant gerrymandering.
In other words, the state legislative redistricting was just as bad as for congressional redistricting, protecting incumbents' seats while undermining the principle of accountability to voters. No surprise there; see politico.com. Perhaps in another ten years there will be enough public demand for reforming the way redistricting is done. In that regard, see fixthelines.com, a project of the Virginia Interfaith Center.