The Game Is Rigged - Time to Move Outside the Box

The drumbeats are getting louder and louder. Except for the fact that it is such a cliché, one would almost suspect that "the Democrats are getting restless tonight."

Consider just this panic post, or this (both from just one liberal Democratic website). Democrats and their friends in the media are lining up to smear Republicans for their reluctance to approve an increase in the debt limit without any conditions attached (such as cutting spending). The real-life equivalent of taking away the punchbowl produces caterwauling the likes of which this Curmudgeon has seen to date only in Greece, Ireland and similar countries that have spent themselves into ruin.

The Republicans seem to be getting themselves into a box of their own making, from which there is no decent escape. Their attempts to enact spending curbs are seen by liberals as mean-spirited at best, and at worst a ploy to bring about a complete "default" (not really) by the United States -- the first one in its 222-year history. (Of course, the United States began with the demise of the Articles of Confederation, triggered by an inability of the government to make good on the Revolutionary War debt which the Continental Congress had issued in the form of paper "Continentals". But the less said about that today, the better, because liberals like all the paper debt being issued by the government in ever greater and greater quantities since Barack Obama became its President.)

As usual, the solution to this dilemma lies in making a move "outside the box" -- without regard to the constraints Democrats are trying to force on Republicans. First of all (trust me on this), the Republicans in the House should enact a simple measure approving a rise in the authorized debt ceiling.

WHAT??! you say -- ARE YOU CRAZY??!

Bear with me a moment, please. In a game of chess, it is always best to see at least three or four moves ahead of your opponent.

The House, I say, should enact a simple, one-line bill raising the debt ceiling: and not by a trifling amount, but by something humongous. Current authorized debt is around $14.2 trillion dollars (see the link for a graphic visual depiction of that amount of money), but the government's unfunded liabilities (i.e., the promises the legislators have made to all their constituents over the years, in order to get re-elected again and again) amount to almost one hundred and fifteen trillion dollars (see figure at lower right of the clock, and see again the huge skyscraper of stacked dollars at the bottom of this link). Therefore, I say, raise the debt ceiling to a comfortable margin over that: let's say ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TRILLION DOLLARS.

THAT should get their attention -- and their overwhelming approval in two shakes of a lamb's tail. OK: default has been averted, and that issue is off the table. However, the measure raising the debt ceiling has one small caveat attached to it (overlooked in the general rush of relief at avoiding default for years and years to come). For what the measure actually says is this (or words to this effect; I have italicized the little caveat I have in mind, so you can think about it):
The total amount of debt which the United States of America is authorized to incur to pay its approved expenses is hereby increased to the maximum sum of One Hundred and Fifty Trillion Dollars ($150,000,000,000,000.00).
Do you see what the effect of the italicized words will be? Reflect on this simple fact: there is currently no lawfully enacted budget on which the Government is operating. The President's last proposed budget was voted "Dead on Arrival", because it made no meaningful attempt at reducing the sea of red ink in which the country is now drowning. The Senate (where the Democrats are in the majority, for the time being) has failed to produce any kind of budget measure for the last 800+ days (more than two years).

So what has our government been running upon, if no budget has passed both the House and the Senate for more than two years, and then signed into law by the President?

Answer: ever since Obama came into office, the Government has been running on a series of continuing resolutions, the first of which was passed into law in March 2009, and signed into effect by the newly elected President. The last such resolution was enacted in April, and its authority expires on September 30, at which time another continuing resolution will be due if the government is not to shut down.

To which I say: Nuts! The Republicans, having avoided the threat of default by taking the debt limit ceiling off the table, should now draw the line at spending another single penny without a fully lawful and duly enacted budget in place -- approved by both Houses of Congress and then signed by the President, as the Constitution has always contemplated.

That is where the Republicans have their leverage, and for which they cannot rationally be blamed by anyone, no matter how liberal. They simply say: "We are against spending any more money without an approved budget."

"But you have to authorize more spending at the current level," the Democrats reply, "otherwise the government will be forced to shut down."

"Balderdash and poppycock," the Republicans reply. "Why do we have to continue to operate without a budget? No sensible household in America tries to do that. Budgets are required by law, and we have (until Barack Obama became President) always had budgets, so why should we change our ways now?"

"But we do have a budget -- of sorts. We just keep spending at the same level we have been spending for the last two years. What's wrong with that?"

"Because revenues are down, that's what. More people out of work, and more businesses going under, mean that less and less taxes are being paid to the Government."

"Well, we can raise taxes -- that's no problem, if you'll go along."

"Raise taxes to bring in more revenue in a declining economy? Where did you go to school?"

And so on and so on -- trust me: the Republicans will have the upper hand on this one.

* * * *

The foregoing hypothetical is meant to demonstrate the sheer folly of drawing a line in the sand just now over the debt limit. As usual, the politicians and their captive media are not focusing on the real issue at hand: the Government is operating without a budget. Raising the debt ceiling in such an environment is an invitation to uncontrolled spending and borrowing, because without a budget, there are truly no limits. By bringing the debate back to the budget, Republicans can hope to build support for a balanced budget amendment if they gain back a majority in the Senate, and win the White House, in 2012.

But by playing chicken with the Democrats over the debt ceiling, the Republicans are agreeing to do battle on a ground that is deliberately rigged against them, and on which they cannot emerge as clear winners.

Doesn't anyone else see this as clearly? Am I off base in calling attention to this point? If so, I wish someone would deign to enlighten me. For the life of me, I cannot see a downside for the Republicans if they would just follow the above strategy.

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