Hostage-taker logic

Why do the Republicans think they can “compromise” on a deficit-reduction deal consisting entirely of their priorities? To a hostage-taker, returning the hostage alive *is* his part of the bargain.

Ever wonder how Republicans can justify to themselves rejecting one proposed debt-ceiling compromise after another, even when the proposals are grossly skewed toward their priorities of further enriching the rich and impoverishing the poor and the middle class?

Steve Benen explains it: to a hostage-taker, returning the hostage alive is his part of the bargain; the victim doesn’t get to ask for anything else. The Republicans think they’ve done enough when they promise not to destroy the economy and dishonor the country by forcing it into default.

If there were any doubt, the GOP agenda is now clear: it’s the old “Rule, or ruin.” Whenever Democrats win elections, the Republicans will make it impossible to govern.

No point blaming them; that’s just the way they are. Time to start fighting back.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

42 thoughts on “Hostage-taker logic”

  1. Ever wonder how Democrats can justify to themselves rejecting one proposed debt ceiling compromise after another, even when the proposals are grossly skewed towards their priorities of further enriching their rent seeking constituencies and government unions?

    No, not really. You figure it’s all your money to spend as you wish, and that everyone else should be thankful the government leaves them anything.

  2. What do you think would have happened if the Democrats called the Republicans’ bluff and said, “we are not negotiating. We will fulfill our constitutional obligation to vote to raise the debt ceiling, and we hope that you will too. But if you’d prefer to destroy the economy, you’re free to do so and to face the consequences”?

  3. Go ahead, Brett. For once, mix some evidence in with your assertions. Tell us what compromises your hostage-taking friends have offered.

    Notice that the whole debate is completely artificial. Congress sets tax rates and appropriates money. The debt is simply the mathematical result of those existing policies. Demanding concessions as the price of voting for what ought to be a routine housekeeping measure is outrageous on its face.

    As to your claims about what Democrats believe: they are, simply, false. It’s possible that you actually believe them.

  4. Brett,

    Any prospect of your providing some specifics:

    1. Which compromises have the Democrats rejected? Perhaps the Democrats were wise to reject the Republican offers or perhaps (and this is my understanding) there weren’t any Republican offers apart from total submission to their outrageous demands. If there are no specifics, then it’s obviously hard to gauge whether your critique has validity.

    2. I’m not sure which proposals were “grossly skewed towards their [Democratic] priorities. Neither am I sure which “rent seeking constituencies” and/or government unions. Perhaps you know some specifics that I don’t but, as I say, without specifics no debate is possible. Again, in the absence of specific factual claims and solid argument, I don’t see much here beyond glibertarian sloganeering and certainly very little with which to engage.

    3. Oddly enough, I probably distrust Pres. Obama far more than you and I am probably even more skeptical about what he’s trying to do here. But that’s because I see Pres. Obama as basically a moderate-Republican who doesn’t care very much at all about the working class and the middle class. The idea that he’s secretly working his heart out for anybody except Wall Street and his fellow members of the classe politique might actually appeal to Mark Kleiman but, frankly, it strikes me as laughable.

  5. To criticize the Democrats from rejecting a compromise, even if they did, is to criticize them for asking the Republicans to lower the amount of ransom they demand. The Democrats are not threatening to refuse to raise the debt limit, so it is ludicrous to view any agreement as a “compromise.”

  6. Hi, Mark. In the spirit of the recent invitation for additional dissenters to chime in I figured I’d go ahead and post a comment. I’m having a very difficult time in figuring out the hostage metaphor. The key thing about hostage-taking (I would think) is that you refuse to release the hostage unless conditions are met. Now you’re not explicit about what is the analogue here to the hostage. I would have thought it was the raising of the ceiling. (I may be wrong about what you have in mind here.) But the thing is, from the reports I’ve seen — and I didn’t see anything in either of your links that contradict it — this is not the case with respect to the Republicans’ bargaining position with regard to the ceiling. The Republican leaders have committed in advance to raising it, and the current squabbling is over the terms — the scope, duration, content, etc., of the deal. Now you can say that the Republican bargaining position is unreasonable on the merits, that they should drop terms that they demand, etc. But in the absence of a threat to refuse to raise the ceiling, which — again, correct me if I’m wrong, does not exist here on the part of the Republicans — I just don’t see how the hostage analogy works analytically. If, for instance, the Republicans say they want a 60-day deal and President Obama says that isn’t long enough so he won’t sign it, that’s not the Republicans holding the ceiling hostage. It is two parties disagreeing on the terms of raising the ceiling, and there’s no better basis to call one party a “hostage-taker” than the other. Would the President be “taking hostages” by refusing to sign an offered debt-ceiling increase whose terms he disliked? I suspect the real function of the hostage metaphor is not an analytic one, but an emotive one. It is pejorative; it can help to rally the troops by reinforcing the perception that the other side are really bad and dumb people; etc. Again, though, the analogy is not drawn out very clearly so I’ll grant that I could be missing a valid substantive function for the analogy.

    Rudolf C.

  7. Carnap:

    The hostages are the world economy and the national honor. The demanded ransom consists of policy changes in an (even more) plutocratic direction.

    The Republicans say that they will release the hostages – that is, extend the debt ceiling so that the federal government can meet its legal obligations – if the changes are made, and otherwise not. (The President long ago proposed a straight, no-ransom deal a simple extension of the debt ceiling – and the Republicans summarily rejected it.)

    So to say that “the Republican leaders have committed in advance” to raising the limit is true only in the sense that a kidnapper commits in advance to release the victim once the ransom is paid.

  8. Carnap,

    In the first place, what the Republicans are saying is that if some or all of their political agenda isn’t enacted into law they will harm the poor, the working class, the middle-class, taxpayers, and generally everyone not a banker, CEO or a member of the political class (collectively “the hostages”) by causing the federal government to default on its debts (most of which were run up by Republicans) thereby causing terrible economic consequences, perhaps even another great depression.

    Secondly, the Democrats are doing any negotiating as such because we are not asking for any part of our agenda to be enacted as a condition of our support. The Democrats have always advocated a clean bill raising the debt limit because we are prepared to make the case for our agenda to the American people, democratically. Even President Obama has acknowledged at he would sign a clean bill if one were sent to him even though doing so would force him to briefly relent on his agenda of screwing the poor, workers and the middle-class at every opportunity.

    That’s why I call it “hostage taking”. What’ve you got to say about that?

  9. Carnap. You’re grossly overthinking this.

    We’ll start with your sentence here:

    “Would the President be “taking hostages” by refusing to sign an
    offered debt-ceiling increase whose terms he disliked?”

    Suppose the hostage-taker sez, “I will not let the hostage
    free unless you supply me with three Flip’s World Famous
    BBQ sandwiches and safe passage to the destination of my
    choice.”

    The Man sez, “ok, Flips is a long way from anywhere so we’ll
    need time to get those sandwiches, and sure, you can have
    a plane”.

    So maybe the hostage-taker takes the deal, hostage goes free.
    From my scenario it is unclear what (eventually) happens to the
    hostage-taker.

    Now suppose the hostage-taker sez, “I will not let the hostage
    free unless you dynamite the Golden Gate Bridge, and kill
    everyone associated with Flip’s BBQ, and confirm the kills by
    bringing me their heads, on a platter, with a side of sauce.
    Also the video of the bridge destruction on YouTube.”

    Would The Man be “taking hostages” by refusing to accept an
    offered solution whose terms he disliked?

    Now rethink your comment given the above scenario. In
    particular, this sentence:

    “Now you’re not explicit about what is the analogue here to the
    hostage.”

    Instead of killing human beings, Republican merely want to kill
    the world economy. Although some (many?) Republicans say they
    think nothing at all will happen.

    I suspect that this is a “be careful what you wish for”
    situation. I somehow don’t see democracy strengthened if
    improvisation is required..

  10. Of course it’s hostage-taking: Republicans are demanding that they get what they want in return for raising the debt ceiling. It’s really quite clear.

    Democrat’s position is to counter with demands of their own to balance the demands made by the Republicans, given that both sides “win” with the raising of the debt ceiling. I think this was a negotiating blunder, that Democrats should have simply demanded a clean bill and noted, as Mark points out, that the spending has already been legislated, and that future spending and cuts should be discussed in a different venue.

    It is as if the Republicans believe their ideas have so little merit that the only way they can get them through is to use threats such as the one they’re using in this case, to wreck the country’s (and world’s) economic health.

    The Republican’s tactics cannot be considered to be “negotiations” in any way. They are using bully-boy threats, not “bargaining.”

    I too have seen that McConnell claims Republicans aren’t saying that they “won’t” raise the debt ceiling, that they’re “just” trying to set the terms. Well, that is both disingenuous, and the epitome of “talking out of both sides of mouth” because in fact, it is exactly what they’ve been saying all along.

    How can ANYONE negotiate with someone like this, who only proceeds in BAD faith?

  11. Thanks for the responses. The problem, it seems to me, that in each case the situation is perfectly reciprocal. The Republicans say that they will find a way to raise the ceiling, but are negotiating for terms that Mark views as tending toward plutocracy. The Democrats say that they will find a way to raise the ceiling, but are negotiating for terms that (let us stipulate for purposes of this discussion) are wise and enlightened. There is simply no sense in which either party is engaging in a “hostage-taking” negotiation strategy. You all just disagree on the merits with the Republicans’ policies. Obviously you all are entitled to your policy views, but as for the hostage analogy, I’m afraid that under the circumstances, Bret Bellmore’s initial response seems an apt response for someone who does not share those policy views. Anyway, that’s how it seems to me.

    On reflection, another independent problem with the analogy is that the problem with hostage taking is not a function of the kidnapper’s negotiating strategy — it is with the predicate misconduct of holding a hostage, which is illegal and immoral. I’m not convinced that there is necessarily anything unusual about the negotiation strategy per se (which may be why nobody has yet disputed the underlying facts of the Republican negotiating position I claimed in my last message, yet that doesn’t weaken the analogy in your minds). Here, however, the putative Republican misconduct simply is its conduct during negotiating the debt thing. In short, it does strike me as a confused, overly emotional, and generally unhelpful analogy, but I don’t mean to go on and on about a short little blog post. I won’t hijack the discussion with tons of messages here.

    RC

  12. Oh, and let me just say that the reason I wandered in here was because I was so impressed with Mark’s latest Blogging Heads dialogue, which taught me a ton of things I didn’t know and seemed very persuasive and well-presented. I would think that someone who could persuade me to change my mind about approaches to penal policies could give me similarly helpful insights in other areas. We’ll see!

    RC

  13. Carnap, here is why it is not reciprocal. Republican demands have nothing whatsoever to do with maintaining the full faith and credit of the United States. The Ryan budget not only does not reduce the deficit but requires an increase to the debt ceiling. Their demands are completely unrelated to the debt ceiling. The Democrats are saying, “Give us a clean bill.” If the Democrats said, “Unless you vote for single-payer health care, we won’t vote for an increase in the debt ceiling,” then it would be a hostage situation. Now, to be fair, Obama has characteristically muddled the message and negotiated against himself by raising the tax issue. But only someone determined not to see what is going on would say that if Obama got a clean bill, he would veto it.

    If the Republicans actually insisted on a budget that would reduce the deficit, then I suppose you could argue that they are making a good-faith effort to remove the conditions that brought us to this point. But they aren’t.

  14. “The key thing about hostage-taking (I would think) is that you refuse to release the hostage unless conditions are met…”

    Well doh. I should think the key thing in a hostage-taking scenario is that one party is engaged in illegal/unethical bargaining, but I could be wrong. Or you could look at it this way, the hostage taker threatens to make everybody lose unless he wins completely. And there is always the thought that he could simply go back to the status quo ante after the victim is dead (or even returned)…so what’s to lose? There’s always more victims, neh? You call this bargaining?

    Besides, everybody despises somebody who gives in to the hostage taker demands (forgotten the torture debate already I see) ….My god, man, do you not watch any television?

  15. “rent seeking constituencies and government unions”….juicy red meat. Ooh, ahhhhhh. Yummmmm. Hey, BB, we just bailed out Wall Street to the tune of $8-10 TRILLION. Gimme’ an “R”. Gimme’ an “E”. Gimme’ an “N”. Gimme’ a “T”. What’s that spell? WHAT’S THAT SPELL?? Wealthy shits who have just pulled off the biggest socially (i.e., government) sanctioned heist in history….and it wasn’t a bunch of school teachers or the counter drones at the DMV, nosirreee.

    Rent seeking my ass. You’re hilarious.

  16. Carnap,

    I cannot agree with your basic premise that both sides are doing the same thing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It was the Republicans who hit upon this strategy of refusing to increase the debt limit as a way of forcing the enactment of their political goals. The Democrats never said that they would refuse to increase the debt limit if they didn’t get what they wanted. The Democrats wanted a clean bill. Just to be clear: If the Republicans would agree to a clean bill, President Obama would sign it and the Democrats would ask for nothing in return. They don’t want to hold anything or anyone hostage. They are merely negotiating to determine what will be included in the ransom and whether the damage that the Republicans seek to inflict on our society can be minimized

    You seem to be saying that because Democrats are negotiating with Republicans about the size of the ransom, then both parties are on the same moral plane. Again, that’s not true. Surely the moral standing of the hostage-taker is different from the victim’s family that is negotiating the terms of the ransom. One is an evildoer and the other is an unwilling victim. That is the fundamental difference that you seem loath to grasp.

  17. “Rule, or ruin.” Mark said it. And so has Mitch McConnell, repeatedly. This is the GOP’s stated overarching policy goal: to make Obama a one term president. They are willing to destroy our economy and to destroy the lives of millions of lower- and middle-class Americans in the process, to achieve that goal. For a long time, I wanted to believe that the GOP operated in good faith, that they actually believed in improving the lives of all Americans. But no, they don’t.

    The last ten or so years (and especially the last year) have demonstrated with crystal clarity the GOP’s rule or ruin philosophy. What the GOP wants is to destroy the Democratic party in order to gain power, which will allow them to enact a permanent plutocracy for the GOP in the United States. An ancillary benefit will be new social policies that hew either to strict Biblical values, or strict Ayn Randian values.

  18. The compromise on the Republicans’ part is agreeing to raise the debt ceiling, when they believe, in principle, (Or their base does, and so they must act as though they do, too. that the budget ought to be balanced. And not raising the debt ceiling balances the budget right away. That’s a huge compromise, right out of the starting gate.

  19. The compromise on the Republicans’ part is agreeing to raise the debt ceiling, when they believe, in principle, (Or their base does, and so they must act as though they do, too. that the budget ought to be balanced.

    Well, that’s big of them considering they voted for two wars, Medicare Part D, the Bush tax cuts and every financial deregulation bill that ever came along. Now, of course, they believe the budget should be balanced.

    Your statement is ridiculous. When you are unreasonable, people will perceive you exactly that way. You don’t balance a budget by defaulting on your obligations. What a bunch of deadbeats.

  20. Brett: The compromise on the Republicans’ Kidnapper’s part is agreeing to raise the debt ceiling release the hostage, when they believe, in principle, (Or their base does, and so they must act as though they do, too. that the budget ought to be balanced hostage ought to be killed.

    I’m against deficit spending as much as the next guy, and I agree that government budgets should be balanced, but the point you and Carnap keep ignoring is that the budget has already passed. This bill is about raising the money to fulfill what both parties have already agreed to. It is beyond disingenuous to hold the world economy hostage in a bad-faith effort to renegotiate what has already been agreed to. Save it for the next appropriations bills.

  21. Republican elites say “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” The Republican base says “The government better keep its hands off my Medicare.” I say, let the budget hit the debt ceiling. There will still be enough revenues to service the debt, but when the Social Security checks stop coming, Republicans will quickly pass a clean increase in the debt ceiling.

  22. Brett:

    Frankly, that is a lie. Republican constituents want to receive social security payments. They want to buy cheap food at the grocery store. They want low-interest loans for their children’s education. They want the dozens of other services and advantages they receive and take for granted. When they actually face the decision between these services and a “balanced budget”*, we both know what they’ll choose.

    *another way of saying it might be “catastrophic accounting nightmare”.

  23. Brett Bellmore says:

    “The compromise on the Republicans’ part is agreeing to raise the debt ceiling, when they believe, in principle, (Or their base does, and so they must act as though they do, too. that the budget ought to be balanced. And not raising the debt ceiling balances the budget right away. That’s a huge compromise, right out of the starting gate.”

    Aside from what DB said, the debt ceiling was repeatedly increased during the Bush administration, with no problems worth noticing. Funny how those GOP politicians didn’t squawk back then.

  24. I don’t think the Republicans want an agreement at all. They’ve already upped the stakes by bringing in the demand for a balanced budget amendment. If I’m right, they will keep upping the stakes every time an agreement seems near.

    Why? Because this forces Obama to use the 14th Amendment to get out of the mess. If Obama does this, the Republicans get to thunder about Obama being a tyrant, but more importantly, THEY CAN’T BE BLAMED FOR ANY ECONOMIC PROBLEMS AFTER THIS. It all become Obama’s fault.

    If Obama allows a default, that will be his problem too. This is all about political posturing and the Republicans can’t lose here.

  25. Actually, let me ask one additional question for any commenters who have a view, because this conversation has been interesting to me so far. It seems to me that the real misconduct being alleged against the Republican negotiators here is simply refusing to sign on to a “clean” hike of the ceiling, i.e., negotiating at all over the terms rather than simply lifting the limit sight-unseen. I was hoping you all could help me understand this better. We have, as I understand it, a statute saying that if the debt is going to go over some threshold X, there has to be legislative action, the houses of Congress have to agree to it and the President has to sign it. It’s not a self-effectuating mechanism where it automatically goes up with spending. I can understand an argument that it should be the latter, but it isn’t. (Obviously, the practical effect of doing it that way would be to eliminate the existence of a debt limit in any meaningful sense, though.) So the question I’m struggling with is why it would be improper for a party to negotiate over the content of a law that is being passed, but rather obligatory to sign the law as framed by the President and his congressional allies. Are there other kinds of legislation where there is a similar duty to refrain from negotiations, or is this the only one? Does it stem from the importance of the consequences of failing to lift the limit? If so, then does the same principle hold in the case of other vitally important laws? Say a president requests authorization for a major combat operation in a foreign country — a measure with obviously huge stakes. Does the opposing party have an obligation to sign onto a “clean” authorization without negotiations? These aren’t rhetorical questions, I’m genuinely struggling to understand the viewpoint that seems dominant here.

    Thanks, and best regards,

    RC

  26. The compromise on the Republicans’ part is agreeing to raise the debt ceiling, when they believe, in principle, … that the budget ought to be balanced. And not raising the debt ceiling balances the budget right away. That’s a huge compromise, right out of the starting gate.

    Not raising the debt ceiling does NOT balance the budget right away. It makes it impossible to execute the current budget, which is a very different thing. It also forces the executive to make choices about what parts to follow and which parts to ignore or delay via a process outside the established democratic process.

    The analogy here is to Chris Rock’s comments about men who want “credit” for not beating their women or committing crimes. Authorizing the undertaking of debt consistent with Congressionally approved expenditures is a matter of duty that should require no payoffs in return.

  27. Carnap – the historical practice has been to pass debt limit increases via clean legislation, albeit with some grandstanding that fell far short of threatening to derail passage. This was done eight times without incident and with the support of most of the GOP players in the current drama during the most recent GOP administration. The grasping of the opportunity to leverage the dire consequences of a failure to demand major policy surrenders as a price to pass such an increase is a violation of one of the unwritten expectations that have been in place on Capitol Hill over many years. The realization by the contemporary GOP, particularly in the House, that there are few if any consequences for violating those expectations has been a prominent feature of US politics since the rise of Newt Gingrich in the late ’80’s. The failure of the Democrats to formulate a strategy to impose such costs is another. Part of the Obama Administration’s strategy in this case may be to allow the GOP to push things so far that they do indeed pay a price.

    The opportunity to determine spending and taxing is available every year as part of the budget process. The decision to risk the consequences of a default in order to extract a better deal outside that process is enough of a violation of legislative norms to inspire comparisons to hostage taking for many observers.

  28. Thanks, Drkrick. So two follow-ups, if you don’t mind. First, do I understand right that the primary reason why you view negotiations over this issue as improper stem from the historical precedents of its being enacted multiple times in the past without substantive negotiations? Do you view this as a general parliamentary principle, i.e., that if a measure is enacted eight times without substantial debate, then both parties forfeit the right to engage in legitimate debate and compromise on the ninth time?

    Second, to what extent does your view on this issue turn on your belief that “the consequences of a default” are at stake here? My understanding is that default is plainly not a risk here, but correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve always seen that the federal budget revenue is somewhere in the vicinity of $200 billion per month, and that the amount of interest obligations to service the debt is in the neighborhood of $20 billion per month. If those numbers are right, then it would seem to me that there is no chance of default at all, and that the consequences of a failure to agree on the ceiling hike would be a significant reduction in federal spending until such a deal was reached. In other words, if the concern here stems from the idea that there could be a default on the interest payments, then — correct me if I’m wrong on the facts — I think that’s just not the case.

    Thanks for the interaction,

    RC

  29. Default is not a genuine risk, in the sense that there is more than enough revenue coming in to service the debt, with plenty left over for things like SS. You’d have to cut back spending on things like illegal wars, but default isn’t in the cards, unless it’s deliberate.

    The ploy here is to use the claim that not raising the debt ceiling will cause a default, as an excuse for the President to usurp Congress’ power of the purse, in anticipation of Congress being controlled by Republicans after the next election. They just want to take one or two giant steps towards dictatorship, because they anticipate a couple of years where they’ll only control the executive branch.

    And, yes, balancing the budget is, theoretically anyway, a goal of the Republican party. So raising the debt ceiling at all IS a compromise. Because, unless the President decides to violate the Constitution, the only consequence of bumping up against the debt ceiling is that we have to balance the budget, right now.

    Do various Republican constituencies want spending that’s contributing to the deficit? Got that right. And I want a sports car. Lacking the power to borrow endlessly, I have to set priorities among my desires, to fit them to my means. The nation will have to do the same. Democrats don’t want that, because they fear that a lot of things they want will to tossed aside, if the nation ever starts picking and choosing what to do, instead of doing everything and whipping out the national credit card.

  30. I’ll further note that the spending level we’re being told we can’t cut back from is supposedly “stimulus”, a temporary surge in spending. That Democrats would try to make it the new baseline was obvious from the start.

  31. Thanks, Brett. I generally agree with your points. I’m even more interested, though, in trying to get a better handle on the reasoning process underlying some of the extreme things being said here about the Republicans, and I hope other commenters might help me get a better grasp on exactly how their logic works as an analytical matter. I’ve already gotten a somewhat clearer idea of what they think is the problem, but I hope someone might have some further clarifications about the general principles they use to conclude that it is a problem (as reflected in my last questions addressed to Dr. Krick).

    RC

  32. Mark is basically correct in his analogy. What bothers me most is that I have yet to see or hear a Republican of note willing to accept even the slightest responsibility for the soaring deficits we currently experience or humbly offer to atone for what their party has done. Yet it is a condition almost entirely of their making, although Democrats were complicit to some degree, out of misguided bipartisan patriotism. We the people HAD balanced budgets when Bush took office, & we WERE paying down the deficit. The Bush tax cuts were intended to be a temporary measure to erase what were projected to be huge surpluses in the 2003-05 timeframe, absent any other developments. Of course there WERE other developments, chiefly the ill-advised invasion of Iraq. And somehow the notion took hold in GOP circles that the tax cuts should be permanent, in spite of the fact that the deficit was again soaring. Where, oh where is there an honest Republican who will say “we got America into this mess, and we must change our policies and expectations to help get America out of it.” But nonesuch exists on the political Right. Only kidnappers, it seems, working for the “shareholder class.” Trying, as they’ve been doing off & on for decades, to expunge the New Deal and Great Society reforms.

  33. Carnap,

    The general principle is simple. The US Treasury has obligations. These include debt payments, as well as many other things. Failure to meet its obligations would have very bad consequences, varying, I suppose, depending on which particular obligations were not met. The time to worry about the budget is when the obligations are assumed, not when they are to be paid. If you are worried about your own finances you do not refuse to pay the Visa bill when it comes. You try to avoid putting a lot of things on the Visa bill to begin with. You seem to be saying that the GOP has a legal right to do what it is doing. OK. That doesn’t make it any less dishonorable.

  34. We’re not talking, in the present instance, about refusing to pay the Visa bill. We’re exactly talking about not putting anything more on it. That’s the substance of not raising the debt ceiling: You can’t run up the card any further.

    Indeed, the time to worry about the budget is when the obligations are assumed. A pity that didn’t happen, so we are reduced to doing it now…

  35. Brett, you are simply wrong. As wrong as you are in your laughable claim that the Republicans care one whit about balancing the budget.

    No one, absolutely no one, who wants to deal seriously with a budget problem at any level, starts by absolutely ruling out revenue increases as part of the solution. It’s utterly absurd. It’s beyond absurd.

  36. Carnap: the extreme things being said here about the Republicans

    What on earth are you talking about?

  37. It’s not beyond absurd. We do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. Until the government demonstrates some capacity to control spending, increasing revenues will only result in a deficit at a higher absolute level of spending.

    This is something people who WANT a higher absolute level of spending have a strong interest in denying, of course.

  38. Brett: Indeed, the time to worry about the budget is when the obligations are assumed. A pity that didn’t happen, so we are reduced to doing it now…

    Not the most respectable argument, but thanks for finally addressing the point. Whatever happened to “a deal’s a deal”? Would you have felt the same during W’s presidency if the Democrats had insisted on rescinding the Bush tax cuts before passing a debt limit adjustment (several of which were required during his administration to pay for his wars), after having passed a budget that included the cuts? Or would you have argued (as I would have) that the Dems were holding the War on Terror efforts hostage to advance their political agenda?

  39. We do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.

    For the past half-century federal receipts have generally been 17-20% of GDP annually. Since 2002 they have been in the low end of that range, and even got down to barely over 16% in 2003 and 2004. In 2009 and 2010 they dropped to just under 15%.

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