The debt ceiling and the best speech never given

As it seems likely that the deficit/default agreement will be slowly making its way through the US Senate to be signed by the President, I thought I would post this as an example of what may have been. The following comes from former Colorado Senator (1975-1987) Gary Hart. This may very well be the best speech on the debt-ceiling never given:

President Obama’s speech to the nation Monday night, August 1st: “My fellow Americans.  Tonight I have signed an order raising the debt ceiling for the next two years.  I have taken this extraordinary step because I had no other choice.  My duties under our Constitution include being commander-in-chief of our armed forces.  Our forces are presently engaged in two long wars as well as hostilities in North Africa.  I have taken a solemn oath to ‘preserve, protect, and defend’ our Constitution.  To jeopardize in any way the well being of our troops, especially while in conflict, to endanger their pay and the housing and care of their families, to place in doubt our ability to pay for the care of the wounded, to place in doubt all the logistical support armies in the field depend on, would not only be unconscionable, it would be unconstitutional. … “This must be made clear: I do not support any notion of what some have called an ‘imperial presidency’ or executive authority that unbalances our Constitutional balance of powers.  But when Congress cannot or will not act, and when the lives of our forces in conflict are at stake, I must exercise the full responsibilities of the office I have undertaken to execute.  I simply have no other choice.  And I fully expect those Justices of our Supreme Court who have previously defended extraordinary executive power to understand and appreciate the necessity of this action in our nation’s security interest. “No American is more confident than I in our elected representatives resuming  their legislative responsibilities.  When extreme passions are spent, and angers and frustrations at our purposefully convoluted democratic process run their inevitable course, Congress will once again do its duty.  And to all those in various movements and the media who find it convenient to blame ‘Washington’ for our troubles, let me remind you that the President and everyone in Congress were elected by a majority of the voters in the nation or in their respective States and districts.  We are you.  And you are us.  We are here because you sent us here.  And neither a  single individual nor small group of zealots should or will dominate our process or dictate the national interest.  No single group should or will have its way. …

(Or, if you don’t like this hypothetical approach, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman had a few other ideas about how this entire debate could have been avoided). There is no reason why the issue of deficit reduction should be tied to the debt ceiling: at its most basic level the reason why we have debt (thus the reason why we must frequently lift the limit on how much debt we are allowed to procure) is because our government decides to spend money. Often the money spent is not for the poster-boy strawmen of the GOP (the tithes to the welfare queens) but are instead on programs/initiatives that serve a purpose for our general welfare. No, none of the legislation passed for these things were via usurped power or fascism; instead, they were done through the votes of officials elected by you and I. All of this only means that it is even more ridiculous that there are those on the right who fail to understandwhy debt grows in the nation. The obligations we are paying are commitments we as a nation have already made. For our nation to pass laws and then not pay for them is to directly undermine the authority of past congresses; to tie “the full faith and credit” of the nation’s obligations to the long-term engineering of where we would like to take our country (the actual budgeting period) is not only unprecedented but naive. The entire debate of the last month has been one tying the actions of the past to our course for the future while praying that the latter has the power to erase the former. It just doesn’t work that way and we as progressives should have to make this point clear. We also need to be ready to call out those responsible for this mess even when it means that we’re calling out our own. Now that the president has once again caved in to the expectations of the right we can now expect the rest of his term to be one of marred promises, passivity and giving in to the demands of the fringe. It was as early as a week ago that Obama made it clear that any deficit reduction deal would have to include revenue increases; and what happened? The man caved – just like he did on healthcare – even as national polls made it pretty clear that not only were the public behind him (apparently there are at least 19 polls proving this) but even a majority of Republicans (65%)  support some increase in revenue. It’s already clear that for being such a great orator the president will never get the title of “The Great Communicator” or “The Great Negotiator.” It’s more likely that his legacy will be cementing Clinton’s centrist “New Democrats” as the new norm. I fear that the only hope progressives within the Democratic Party have now is to lobby for a strong voice to sit in the “super congress” and make it clear that Grover Norquist will not be drowning our government in the bathtub any time soon. (Who’s ready to print up some “Sanders for Super Congress” buttons?) To leave this on one last pessimistic note: even if we were to get a progressive to sit in the congress, the single greatest contribution to the deficit – the Bush Tax cuts – are already being taken off the table according to the administration. We should have known that “everything on the table” actually means “not really.”


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