Bob Franken

King Features Column

(The usual stuff: This column appears here a week after its newspaper release to keep the syndicator happy)

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Washington seems to be on a path to staving off a United States of America financial default until May 18, now that the GOP semicontrolled House has passed, and the White House has signed off on, legislation that doesn’t really increase the debt ceiling but delays enforcement of it till that date.
Don’t ask. All that’s important is that this crisis is now on the back burner for almost four months, which in politician years is, uh, almost four months. Paraphrasing Vice President Joe Biden, “This is a small blankin’ deal.” But hey, it’s a deal, which is a big departure in the nation’s capital these days.
To quote Laotzu (how’s that for classy?), “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and that sixth-century Taoist wasn’t just lip-synching Dixie. Even little tippy-toes forward in D.C. represent progress. Of course, the problem is that there are plenty of opportunities for these squabblers to fall flat on their whatever, and bring us all down with them.
This short extension really means the Republicans are buying some time so they can better position themselves for the budget fights ahead. They were getting hammered in the public-perception arena for appearing to dig in on their demands for huge cutbacks. Had they not backed off, they could have forced the nation into disgrace, a brutally embarrassing inability to pay her bills. Now they have cooled their jets, they can more comfortably try to impose their government-busting will in negotiations over averting a partial federal shutdown, which could happen March 27. Even before that, on the 1st, the delayed “sequestration,” the indiscriminate across-the-board butchering of both domestic and defense programs, is supposed to kick in. So the slashers have plenty of leverage in their demands to gut programs that help the old and needy. Otherwise, all agencies get clobbered, threatening not just the military, but essential civilian functions from air-traffic control to federal law enforcement and medical research.
Apparently, defaulting on obligations to bondholders is perceived as worse than defaulting on obligations to everyone else, so while it would appear that this was a retreat by Speaker John Boehner, it actually was pretty clever. He was able to hold at bay his tea party wild bunch and even got to weakly flex his party’s muscles a little bit with that ridiculous requirement in the legislation that the Senate pass a real budget for the first time since 2009 or the members won’t get paid. How hard-hitting was that?
The Democrats went along, muttering, “Yeah, sure, whatever,” particularly since they don’t call the U.S. Senate the “millionaires club” for nothing. Even those in the club who are not wealthy don’t have to sweat it. With all the special interests slithering around, no one in Congress has to worry about starving. That kind of concern is for constituents.
The reason they haven’t produced a budget, by the way, is because doing so would mean hard choices that could cause some of their lobbyist buddies to go berserk if they cut the fat. That’s what these times of austerity require, that plus raising taxes on someone. The best way they found to avoid offending anyone has been to just sidestep their responsibility. Now the Democrats have said they’ll actually hammer out something. Don’t hold your breath on that.

Even if they come up with a bill, wait till they send it to House Republicans. They will stomp all over it. Everyone is playing the blame game. This time around, the GOP may have the ultimate upper hand in this lowlife competition. And as a last resort, if they don’t get their way between now and May 18, they still have the debt ceiling. They can throw the ultimate temper tantrum and then destroy America’s Full Faith and Credit. That would be a big blankin’ deal.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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