In late 2011, when House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened not to raise the debt ceiling (a political tactic never before used by Congress that affected the nation’s credit rating) the novelty of it had some pull. But when they followed up immediately with the“fiscal cliff” maneuver there was less public interest. Now “sequestration,” even though its effects could be dire, doesn’t even get the kind of public traction the “fiscal cliff” did.
When fiscal crises become the “new normal” the public begins to remember that they elected politicians to do a job. And part of their job description is to take care of the public purse and not to create problems where none exist.
With the latest Republican-manufactured “sequester” looming the nation might learn from the California experience under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The California Republican Party sent the state hurling down one “fiscal cliff” after another. Budget “crises” were a dime a dozen, brought on by an archaic two-thirds rule in the state legislature, (which gave the GOP minority veto power over budgets), and a governor who was willing to do whatever his political Svengalis told him to do.
For years the California GOP normalized “fiscal Armageddon.” After all the dire warnings, partisan finger pointing, and doomsday scenarios, along with heartless cuts to social programs, furloughed state workers, and public employee unions blamed for the state’s woes, the whole enterprise lost it luster, and with it any political advantage the Republicans sought from it.
The diminishing return on hyping “crisis” was evident when the state’s economy went into free-fall after the Wall Street mortgage bubble burst. Schwarzenegger and his fellow Republicans tried their best to take advantage of the economic collapse to ram through tax cuts for corporations and a wholesale denuding public sector institutions.
When the next electoral opportunity arose Californians threw all the Republicans out of state office and elected large Democratic majorities to both chambers of the legislature. The people were fed up with the Republicans’ annual game of budgetary chicken. They wanted politicians to start doing their jobs. There are limits to the number of times you can play the “budget crisis” card.
And with the “sequester” it seems that the originality of these artificial “crises” is wearing thin. In the long term playing politics with the nation’s purse strings isn’t going to be popular because it shows the electorate that the politicians they sent to Washington are failing in their basic responsibilities.
This crisis fatigue is setting in despite the Beltway Bubble media framing the “sequester” as if President Obama is equally to blame. Journalists such as Bob Woodward and Jackie Calmes and others stand above politics and stridently enforce a false balance. Mainstream press reports claim the sequester was a “bipartisan” deal.
But saying Obama reached an “agreement” on the sequester and therefore is equally culpable is like saying a guy who had a gun stuck in his face reached an “agreement” with the robber to hand over his wallet.
Many of the same Washington “journalists” who ten years ago failed us miserably in their foreign policy reportage leading up to the Iraq war by serving as stenographers for those who hyped the WMD scare are now failing to report accurately on domestic policy. Now they’ve become stenographers for the deficit scolds, most of whom are Republicans.
Outside the Beltway, support for an increase in the minimum wage among Americans is off the chart, but you wouldn’t know it. The Bubble Boys and Girls who cover domestic policy write about budget cutting as if it were a virtuous end in itself. They do not put the slightest pressure on the Republicans to articulate a vision for the future other than slashing social programs they never liked in the first place. This frame explains their love affair with Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.
In recent years there have been too many “days of reckoning” regarding government budgets at the municipal, state, and federal levels, and the economy is still so terrible people have more immediate problems to worry about than the latest Republican trick. Gerrymandering and voter suppression might work for the GOP for a while, maybe even until 2022 (after the next census), but it’s a dead end. Perennial budget “crises” are like foreign wars that drag on and on, they just get old and the public becomes numbed to them.
Joseph Palermo’s Blog
Sunday, 24 February 2013