FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Budget Games

The tension is building in the budget talks as the calendar closes in on the Aug. 2 drop-dead date. According to Treasury Secretary Geithner, this is the date where the government would no longer have the money to pay its bills and a default on the debt would be looming.

As many have noted, including me, a default on the debt would be an absolute disaster for the financial system. We would see the same sort of freeze up of lending as we did after the collapse of Lehman in September of 2008; although this time would almost certainly be much worse.

With U.S. government debt no longer the rock-solid pillar of the world financial system, banks would instantly lose much of their capital. They would not only have to write-down the value of government debt, but also all the assets backed by the government, like Fannie Mae- and Freddie Mac-issued mortgage-backed securities.

This would almost certainly push the major banks into insolvency. J.P. Morgan, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and the rest would suddenly be back in the welfare line. And any rescue would almost certainly not restore them to their former strength and profitability like the last one did. If the government defaulted on its debt, Wall Street would take a shellacking and it would never again be the center of world finance.

This is why we knew all along that the Republicans in Congress were not serious about their threats over allowing the government to default. While these people might be happy to kick poor people in the face, to take hard-earned wages and benefits away from working people, and to shove retirees out onto the street, the Republican congressional leadership is not about to cross Wall Street. After all, who pays for the campaigns?

This meant that the Republicans were always going to fold if President Obama didn’t cave. The only question was when and how.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell gave us the answer to this question on Tuesday when he proposed a convoluted scheme that would essentially allow President Obama to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. The price is that Obama would have to propose a set of budget cuts, totaling $700 billion over 10 years (at 1.6 percent of spending), to Congress three times over the next year and half. These spending cut packages would have to be given a straight up or down vote.

While President Obama may hold out and insist on some further Wall Street-sponsored crawling by the Republicans in Congress, this deal looks like it should be enough fun. Senator McConnell’s plan lets Obama put any cuts on the table that he wants. In keeping with the spirit of this proposal, the cuts in Round One could be composed entirely of spending in Mr. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky.

If more cuts are needed to reach the $700 billion target, he can also propose gutting spending for Ohio, the home state of Speaker John Boehner. In later rounds he can include cuts for Virginia, the home state of the Republicans’ firebrand minority leader Eric Cantor. It will be interesting to see the Republicans vote on these proposed cuts.

Of course this is silly, but the whole debate over the debt ceiling was silly. If Congress wants to cut spending then the way to do that is to send the president smaller spending bills. They can do that any day of the week.

The idea that Republicans in Congress were going to force big cuts in the country’s most important programs ? Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid ? by taking Wall Street hostage with the debt ceiling is absurd. It was only necessary for President Obama to call their bluff.

The bottom line is that the debt ceiling is a gun pointed first and foremost at Wall Street’s head. And, there is no way on earth that Wall Street is going to let the Republicans pull the trigger.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy and False Profits: Recoverying From the Bubble Economy.

This column was originally published by The Guardian.

 

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail