Bryan Zepp Jamieson
April 29th 2023
Imagine that you are the owner of a small business. Tax time is approaching, and you’ve spent much of the previous month conferring with your tax accountant agency, ensuring that they have all the proper documentation and a full assessment of all credits and liabilities. Your main preparer has told you will will owe a certain amount on your income, but that comes as no surprise. Just part of the cost of doing business.
But then, a week before the tax deadline, your preparer comes to you with an offer he thinks you can’t refuse. He’ll send in the documents and a check, but only if you fire 10% of your employees, raise prices for your customers, and buy lower quality raw materials for your product. And he wants you to hire only people who attend his church. Or he’ll withhold the tax documents, leaving you to face a load of penalties, a possible audit, and damage to your credit.
Under the law, that is extortion. It’s a felony. The accountant would face many years in prison for pulling such a stunt. He’s abusing your legal obligations for his own gain.
The Republicans in the House are pulling that type of stunt right now. It’s not the first time they’ve used a constitutionally dubious provision in the law to threaten to ruin the credit of the United States. They’ve been doing it, always during Democratic administrations, going back to when it was the brainstorm of the vicious and feckless Newt Gingrich during the Clinton administration. He was the first to hit on the idea of blackmail as official legislative policy. (He and the Republicans tried a similar stunt with the budget, and that blew up massively in their own faces when the country discovered that holding the budget hostage included shutting down Social Security checks, national parks, post offices and many other beloved government functions. Newt, beaten badly on that and facing personal scandal, backed down.
But the Republicans knew a good blackmail ploy when they saw it. Simply threaten to withhold mandated action and demand things that could never ever pass legislatively, such as cutting veterans’ benefits or food stamps or school funding, and leave the Democratic administration to take the blame for it since it would be his signature on a non-bill no member of Congress could be held responsible for.
In 2011, the Democrats called their bluff, and the early stages of a fiscal avalanche that is default began. It cost the country an estimated $2.4 trillion (yes, trillion, with a “tr” – 2,400 billion) and provoked a mild but long-lasting recession.
Republicans can’t govern. Even when they had a Speaker who wasn’t a beholden wimp, and a reasonable majority, they couldn’t get a budget passed, but had to punt the ball down the field, in the form of a “continuing resolution” which basically rubber-stamped the previous years’ budget onto the next one. Between the inflexibility and inflation, it amounted to a slow strangulation of the economy. But, knowing the majority of voters hated what they wanted to see done, they didn’t dare put it out there in black and white, but instead, simply tried to blackmail the country.
They’re at it again, and between the civil war that exists between the zealots and the banksters, and the tiny amount of votes they have in the House (5) they can’t even really say what it is they want. The poison-pill laden extension McCarthy managed to get through by just two votes took a meat-cleaver approach: The plan would cut a wide swath of government spending to last year’s levels, a decrease of about 9%. From that point, growth would be capped at 1% annually over the next 10 years. More of that slow strangulation Republicans so love, and nobody’s fingerprints on the pain. One of the few specifics was to cut the $80 billion or so left from funds to battle COVID, although the Administration has already earmarked that money, reallocating it to veterans’ health care and medical research. It would eliminate Biden’s $400 billion student debt relief, a program Republicans hate because it is popular and prevents the cost of education from making a life-long fiscal slave of the student. It cuts increases to the IRS because the IRS is inconvenient to plutocrats, who resent having to give 1% of their income to the country that wet-nursed them. It would repeal incentives for electric vehicles and sustainable energy because that might annoy the fossil-fuel companies that pay for those Republicans. And they would mandate work for people on Medicare or food stamps because employers would welcome would-be workers who are destitute, desperate, and with no options. It’s the capitalist dream, you know.
None of these poll well, but the Republicans don’t really care about cutting the deficit. (If they did, they would repeal the Trump tax cuts and the huge incentives paid to oil companies, and reduce funding for military allocations, but they won’t.) They just want to threaten the country to weaken Biden, and hope that whether he accepts the blackmail or he doesn’t that he, and not the Republicans, will be blamed for the ensuing fallout.
It’s tawdry, it’s cynical, and it’s a betrayal of the country. It’s the entire Republican package, rolled up into one sleazy political gambit that less than 1/100th of one percent of the country would benefit from.
Ask Biden to stand firm on his demand for a “clean” debt-ceiling raise. Allow no blackmail from these vicious sleazeballs.