By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
He’s the biggest sensation in the UK since Susan Boyle. He trounced the competition in winning the big prize on “Britain’s Got Talent.” And he accepted his $500,000 pound award — on all fours!
Meet Pudsey, the border collie, bichon frise, and Chinese crested cross mix — a.k.a. “mutt” — who wowed the judges and took Britain by storm with an amazing display of walking on his hind legs, jumping through hoops, and even dancing the Charleston.
That’s the difference between a dog and House Republicans. You can teach a dog tricks. Apparently, you can’t teach a House Republican anything. They just can’t seem to learn.
As we discovered with Paul Ryan’s budget, for example. Last year, all but four House Republicans voted for the Ryan plan to end Medicare and Medicaid as they now exist and slash programs for the poor, while expanding tax cuts for the rich. His plan never got off the ground, but it still turned out to be a political disaster.
Newt Gingrich dismissed it as “right-wing social engineering.” And, once back home in their districts, Republicans were so clobbered by outraged constituents anxious about losing Medicare and Medicaid that they returned to Washington and practically disowned the Ryan plan. You’d think they’d have learned their lesson. But oh, no. This year Republicans turned around and adopted almost the very same plan, only worse. And Mitt Romney immediately praised the Ryan budget as a “bold step toward putting our nation back on the track to fiscal sanity.” He even called it “marvelous.”
And now, led by Speaker John Boehner, Republicans are displaying the same ignorance — and arrogance — on the debt ceiling. Who can forget last year’s debacle? Even though raising the debt ceiling so the United States can pay its bills was never before a partisan issue — Ronald Reagan did it 18 times; George W. Bush, seven times — House Republicans refused to allow another increase without corresponding spending cuts to domestic programs.
For Republicans, this proved to be another public relations disaster. Experts predicted economic collapse. Credit agencies warned the United States would lose its top rating. The markets tanked. Crisis was only avoided when both sides agreed to the creation of a Super Committee. But that failed, too, when Republicans on the committee refused to accept any increase in revenues. At which point, as agreed, the “sequester” kicked in, requiring $1.2 trillion in cuts split evenly between defense and domestic programs. But now Republicans are trying to break that deal, too, by sparing the Pentagon and taking all cuts out of Head Start, food stamps, and health care.
Once again, following such abject failure, you’d think Republicans would have learned something. But, oh no. Speaker Boehner is now throwing the same temper tantrum. This week, he told the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2012 Fiscal Summit: “When the time comes, I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase.” In other words, Boehner is re-opening the debt brawl of last summer by threatening to shut down the government and hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to drastic new domestic (only) spending cuts — and, of course, another extension of the Bush tax cuts.
No matter how he tries to wrap it in fiscally responsible rhetoric, Boehner’s suddenly rigid stand on the deficit is nothing but pure politics. If not, why did the current four Republican leaders — John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, and Jon Kyl — combine to vote for increases in the debt ceiling, with no strings attached, 19 times under President George W. Bush? Did they suddenly get religion when Barack Obama was elected? And, if it’s so sacrosanct, why does the Ryan budget itself include an increase of $5 trillion in the debt ceiling with no necessary corresponding cuts?
Clearly, Boehner’s just playing a political game with the debt ceiling. But it’s a dangerous game whose failure would have a devastating effect on the U.S. economy. Every government agency, every business, every family would face a much higher cost of borrowing. Thousands of businesses would fail, and unemployment would rise dramatically.
It’s irresponsible for Boehner to re-ignite last summer’s budget brawl. And political suicide. According to Gallup, after last year’s pitiful performance, Congress’s approval rating sank to a low of 10 percent. This year, Boehner seems determined to get it down to zero.
© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.