Thursday, October 10, 2013

What If Congress Cannot Agree? What is "SOPHIA"? a Poem and What's Behind Spending Cuts?

Because events in regard to the budget, the debt limit and the government shutdown are moving rapidly, some of the material in the following article may be outdated by the time you read it.  If a temporary CR (continuing resolution) without any restrictions on the Affordable Care Act allowing the present budget to be extended for a limited period of time were to be agreed upon, and if a temporary raising of the debt limit so that the Treasury could borrow (as they always have done) funds to cover the government's bills and liabilities (such as interest on or redemption of Treasury bills, notes and bonds) were to be passed, the problem would not be solved.  In exchange for such compromises, the President and the Senate would be negotiating on proposed legislation with the House during that temporary period.  After that, unless there are some unexpected changes, we could be back to square one as described below.  JL

Worst Case Scenario – A Constitutional Crisis

The present government shutdown due to Congress’ failure to pass a budget bill, and its impending failure to increase the nation’s debt limit, can lead to a constitutional crisis.  This “Worst Case Scenario” as described below has a relatively happy ending.  It is not difficult, however, to imagine an even worse scenario, one in which the present crisis does not end well at all.

Let’s assume that the House absolutely and permanently refuses to send a budget bill to the Senate that does not include amendments crippling the Affordable Care Act, passed by both Houses three years ago.  This would result from the refusal of about thirty extreme right wing Republicans to agree to any compromise whatsoever.  The rest of the Republican House majority would go along with this out of fear that they could face a primary challenge from the right if they refused to do so, despite the willingness of Speaker John Boehner to bring a “clean” budget to a vote, with the Senate’s understanding that once it went to them, a compromise involving modification of certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act would be negotiated.   Let's assume the the Democratic majority in the Senate will continue to refuse to consider bills passed by the house which either include amendments restricting the ACA or individual bills authorizing appropriations on a piecemeal basis, but not including the ACA.

Having lost the ability to lead his party, and with his arm being twisted by his right wingers, Boehner would resign his post, and be replaced by a Speaker unwilling to de-couple crippling the Affordable Care Act from the budget bill, either out of conviction or out of fear of a primary challenge.  Let’s further assume that when the debt ceiling issue comes up, the same impasse presents itself and no increase is authorized.  America, with its government shut down, then would default on its financial obligations, as well.

Let's also assume that President is on the same page as the Senate and is equally adamant in resisting changes in the Affordable Care act as the price of a continuing resolution to extend the existing budget and an increase in the debt ceiling.


Six months then pass with no budget approved and no increase in the debt ceiling, during which the country doesn’t pay its bills. 

Is it conceivable that some American businessmen in China might be seized and imprisoned because of our failure to pay interest on loans? How far down will the stock market plunge? (It's moving that way already.)  How long will it take for some banks to fail with the government not having funds to rescue them? How will this spill over to markets and banks throughout the world, all of which depend on credit to operate?  Locally, will credit continue to be available to businesses and even to credit card holders?  Other than the armed forces, what government operations will a penniless nation which can't borrow be able to support?  Will IRS still be able to collect taxes?  Will benefits such as Social Security and Medicare continue?  Will veterans' benefits grind to a halt?  How many more unemployed will the country have?  Will schools and hospitals remain open? How soon will it be before the dollar is no longer accepted in exchange for foreign currencies?  No one really knows what will happen, but it won't be pretty.

Faced with this situation, the President makes one last plea to Congress to pass a budget bill and raise the debt ceiling without using these measures as political leverage to cripple the Affordable Care Act and other legislation to which Republicans object.  His plea is ignored.

Can you envision at this point the President, after conferring with all nine Supreme Court justices, announcing the suspension of both Houses of Congress for a one year period and ordering the Army to lock down the Capitol Building?  Assuming absolute powers with the assent of the Supreme Court, which votes seven to two to allow him to do so (Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting), the President would then by decree increase the debt limit, authorize a budget as passed by the House but without any restrictions on existing legislation and order all government employees back to work, with retroactive pay.  Things start to creep back to normal.

But recognizing that there are approximately three hundred million weapons in the hands of Americans, the government orders their confiscation by local police in order to avoid violence on the part of those who oppose the suspension of Congress.  This is accomplished with minimal, but unavoidable, loss of life on the part of law enforcement agencies and those who refuse to give up their weapons.

After about a year, Congress is restored and things in the United States continue on the road to recovery.  The Affordable Care Act is repealed, despite the pleas of the insurance industry, and replaced by the Single Option Payer Health Insurance Act (SOPHIA) which in effect extends Medicare to everyone. (How appropriate this would be; "Sophia" is Greek for "wisdom.") Congress approves tax increases, primarily on the wealthy, to pay for this and weapons are gradually returned to their owners in a responsible and orderly fashion.

A new President and Congress is elected in 2016, by which time many members of the Tea Party have left the country and emigrated to Somalia, where they are extremely pleased to find there is very little interference by government in anything anyone does.

 Map of Somalia and President of Mogadishu Chapter of NRA

In fact, there is little central government there at all. This doesn’t prevent Ted Cruz from being elected President of Somalia by a wide margin.  His first act is to enlist the services of Wayne La Pierre to be in charge of the individual militias necessary to maintain order in the country. (Please forgive my being unable to resist adding a little humor to this otherwise serious article.)

(If you feel that the current impasse in Congress presents the danger of a Constitutional crisis, as this fictional article supposes might take place, consider Emailing a "link" to this article (by clicking on the envelope with the arrow on it at the bottom/left corner of this posting) to your friends, local print and TV media and of course, to your Representatives in Congress.
 Jack Lippman


Neath A Volcano’s Crust

Tho’ he never really knew him                                  

He couldn’t forget him                                           

Standing in his crib screaming in anguish

At what he sensed was missing

The bond of love shattered

Like a tree struck by lightning

Mother striving to cope

Loving him, nurturing him

Overcome by her loss at twenty-three

Speaking endlessly of her grief

What had been lost

What would never now be

Swamped as a single mom

Threatening him with an orphanage, or death

The live-in-boarder and the tenement’s janitor

Became his earliest male mentoring models

Supplemented through the later years by fathers of friends

An uncle, older cousins, teachers, peers

The void never really filled by his search

For the oasis he thirsted after

Her stories etched grooves of memories in his brain

Like dried-up river beds waiting to be filled

Smells, movie plots, characters in a book, dreams

Rushing to fill the scarred grooves

A wraith ever-waiting to pounce

Throughout his growth

Childhood, teens, adult

Marriage, fatherhood, patriarch

Eight decades later

His pain at twenty-two months

Lies waiting to erupt

Like hot lava

‘Neath a volcano’s crust  

James Whitehouse


What Spending Cuts Are All About

Republicans are not primarily interested in repealing the Affordable Care Act merely because they don’t like what is in it, no matter what they say.
What they really object to is that the Act involves increased spending which administering the Act and subsidizing its low income participants requires.  This is why the G.O.P. opposed Social Security and Medicare when they were introduced.  Spending is a dirty word to them because to spend more, the government must tax more and the real underlying mission of today’s Republican Party is to reduce the tax burden on the wealthy and of course, not increase it.  That bears repeating: the real underlying mission of today’s Republican Party is to reduce the tax burden on the wealthy and of course, not increase it. Every other word out of a good Republican’s mouth is “spending cuts.” That is the standard by which the G.O.P. measures all legislation.  

They have used the discredited explanation that reducing the taxes of the rich will enable them to invest more in our economy, creating more jobs than Keynesian-inspired government pump priming could ever do.  Of course, the latter approach would involve increased government spending and with it, increased taxes and really, that is why the Republicans oppose it.  They convince many of their followers that dependence on the government ultimately means a sacrifice of liberty and freedom.  Hogwash!  Frederich Hayek's musty economic philosophy (accepting government benefits puts a nation on the "road to serfdom") does not pertain to today's America.

The beneficiaries of Republican-worshipped spending cuts would be those in the highest tax brackets. The greatest task that the Republican Party has is to convince those who are not in the highest tax brackets that what is very good for the very wealthy is also very good for them, and supposedly the whole country.  This is an easy sell when those who are not in the highest tax brackets see those in the lowest tax brackets benefiting most from programs resulting from government spending, and for which they do not qualify.  If money is being taken from the very rich to give to the very poor, the not-so-rich Republican reasons that his pocket is also being picked for this purpose, so he gullibly swallows the G.O.P.’s anti-spending line, even though it often is to his or her disadvantage.  (Example: Whom do you think benefits from Social Security FICA deductions not being taken from annual salaries in excess of $113,700?   Poor and middle class people?  No way, Jose!  Republicans do not want those whose support they seek to ask questions like this since an honest answer would lose them middle class votes.)

This misleading confection is neatly wrapped up with a red, white and blue ribbon on Fox News as well as on many conservative talk radio programs and eaten up by many.  These are the people who are most susceptible to the preaching of extreme right wing Republican ideologues who condemn any Republican who is willing to compromise on measures involving spending (the debt limit or the budget for example) with the President and the Democratic Senate.  To them this is heresy, and that is why we find ourselves in a dreadful mess today.

You might ask why the G.O.P. is so beholden to the very rich that their underlying mission is to reduce their tax burden and of course, not increase it.  Simple! In exchange, the wealthy fund Republican election campaigns on all levels.  And when you have unlimited money to win elections, you develop power, and that includes the opportunity to gerrymander Congressional districts in order to maintain control of the House, and pass out "patronage" jobs chiefly on the local level. This bargain is sickening, isn't it?

Registered Republicans and independents who sometimes vote for Republicans should be aware that today's G.O.P. is NOT the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower or even Ronald Reagan.  

  It is something else, and it is not very easy to figure out what that is, but describing it as irresponsible would be a step in the right direction. 

Today's G.O.P., in maximizing its crusade against spending, is behaving like a football team which feels it lost a game because of some bad calls by the officials and incorrect readings of the replay tape, and consequently, is screaming "Kill the Umpire."  The umpire, in this case, is the United States Government which is merely trying to fund the payment of the its "accounts payable" and pass a budget providing for items already approved by Congress, but which includes spending with which the G.O.P. disagrees. "Killing the Umpire" won't change the game's final score.   No, "irresponsible" is too charitable a word to use to describe the G.O.P..   They are something else.  You tell me what.  



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Jack Lippman

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