Todd Rokita: Yet More Stupid (Who Knew That Was Even Possible?)
During the government shutdown, I’ve had cause to be extremely critical of Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Indiana). I’ve criticized Rep. Rokita for his condescending behavior toward CNN anchor Carol Costello, his use of his own child’s illness as a political ploy to reopen certain healthcare elements of the government at the same time that he tries to eliminate healthcare for others, and for both his claim that Obamacare is “one of the most insidious laws known to man” and his ludicrous and deceitful (insidious even…) attempt to defend that statement. So last night, in my despair over the miserable performance by the Colts in their game against the Chargers, I was more than a bit incredulous to see that Rep. Rokita found yet another way to show just how stupid he is:
U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita suggested Monday that not raising the debt ceiling could become a good tool for curbing federal spending, despite chances the government would default on its loans.
Rokita, an Indiana Republican, argued that the nation would not default if it prioritized paying off debt over paying for daily operations.
Even with Republicans and Democrats at odds over how to solve the ongoing budget stalemate, Rokita is one of just a few lawmakers who have publicly suggested the debt ceiling shouldn’t be raised at all. Many economists have warned the economic consequences could be catastrophic if the federal government defaults.
“We have the cash flow to meet our debt, now what we don’t have, necessarily, is the cash flow to pay our debt and then all the things that we want,” he said on WIBC-FM Monday.
Rokita added that he understood there may be some immediate pain, in the form of mass government layoffs and economic contraction, but suggested that would improve with an “explosion” in private-side spending.
“I certainly acknowledge there would be immediate pain. But again, are we living for us in the here and now, or are we living for the children of tomorrow?” he said.
“The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart lampooned Rokita earlier this month for calling a female CNN anchor “beautiful” and describing the health care law as “insidious.” But Rokita defended himself Monday, saying Stewart should look up what the term means.
Seriously. Rep. Rokita, the former Secretary of State of Indiana, thinks that failure to raise the debt limit wouldn’t be a default and would be a “good tool” to reduce federal spending. I won’t bother to ask what federal spending he wants to cut. I’m sure he wants to cut Medicaid and Social Security, probably welfare programs (like TANF, SNAP, and SCHIP), maybe even Medicare; you know, programs that those least able to help themselves need. But I doubt that he’d be voting to reduce farm subsidies or subsidies to big oil, raise taxes on wealthy Americans, cut other programs that help his corporate overlords. No.
But that’s not why his statement is so, so very stupid.
First, let’s look at default. If we reach the debt limit and run out of money, we default on our obligations, not just on loans to creditors. Rep. Rokita suggests that we prioritize (more on that in a minute) payments to pay off the debt over “daily operations”. Hmm. What might those daily operations consist of? Payments to seniors on Social Security. Payments to our soldiers serving overseas. Payments to the police who guard Rep. Rokita in the Capitol. Payment of Rep. Rokita’s salary. Payment of our customs agents and border patrol. Payment of … well, of everything that the federal government has pledge or is obligated by law to pay. (Oh, and by the way… those laws that obligate the federal government to pay for things were passed by Congress.) And as the article notes “[m]any economists have warned the economic consequences could be catastrophic if the federal government defaults” (emphasis added).
But Rep. Rokita apparently looks at things like Social Security, Medicare, and military salaries as just “things we want”.
So let’s look at it another way, with an analogy. Let’s compare the federal government to a family (which is a very inapt analogy, but it’s one that Republicans like to use when they tell us that the federal government should operate “within its means” or whatever other cliché they choose). For the purpose of the analogy, think of China and those to whom the United States owes debt obligations (bond holders) as the bank that holds the mortgage on the family’s house. (By the way, much of that debt is held, not just by China, but by American citizens via their investments and their pensions and so forth.) Anyway, let’s use Rep. Rokita’s idea of prioritizing payments to the holders of the family’s debt. So, the mortgage gets paid and thus it isn’t in default. Yeah! Um, but guess what? Because the family used the little money that it had, it couldn’t pay all of its utility bills. Or pay for a child’s visit to the doctor. Or for food. So while the good news is that the family’s house isn’t in foreclosure, the bad news is that there aren’t any lights or heat and there isn’t any food on the table. Oh, and junior’s broken arm will go untreated. Too bad, so sorry, get a job, kid.
But you see, the government isn’t like a family. First, the family can choose not to have heat or to allow junior to just suffer in pain. But the federal government has already promised to pay soldiers and retirees and deadbeat, dumb as shit Congressmen. Second, it’s likely that the family found itself in those precarious straights because of hard times, not because dad said that if mom didn’t stop taking her diabetes medications, he would quit his job and stop earning any money for the family. That’s where the House Republicans are right now. They’re the dad and they want to become a deadbeat. Moreover, unlike the family that has to fight and scrape for its money (or seek loans from highly reluctant lenders), the world wants to give loans to America because the world knows that we’ll honor our obligations. Or it least we’ve honored our obligations in the past; before the Tea Party came to Washington intent on burning everything down.
So when Rep. Rokita suggests that if we prioritize our payments we won’t be in default, he is only speaking about defaulting on our debt obligations, not on all of our other obligations.
As to this whole idea of prioritizing payments, there are several issues. First, the Treasury Department says that it doesn’t have the Congressional authorization to decide which payments to prioritize or which payments to skip. Moreover, the Treasury Department also says that even if it did have that authority, the current government shutdown means that those individuals that might have the ability to help re-program the computers to prioritize payments are currently on furlough.
But ask yourself this: Who gets to decide which payments to prioritize? Remember that the Treasury Department is part of the Executive Branch. So what if Treasury decided to pay debt first, then Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, followed by food stamps and other welfare programs and salaries for our soldiers, but also decided to skip payments of farm subsidies, Congressional salaries, or other programs that Republicans like? Or, what if Treasury said that we’re going to prioritize federal construction or other projects (including, for example, military procurements) to districts with members of Congress who didn’t try to shutdown the government or force the country into default? Maybe we’ll only pay Social Security for people in “blue” districts of in the districts of members of Congress who voted to raise the debt limit. Would Rep. Rokita find fault with that sort of prioritization?
And Rep. Rokita doesn’t seem to be troubled by “immediate pain” like “mass government layoffs and economic contraction” because, he thinks there would be an “explosion” of private spending. Really? Like the “explosion” of private spending when the economy cratered in 2008? Oh, wait. Remember that economics think that default would be “catastrophic”. And why does Rep. Rokita think that the layoffs would be limited to the government? How many private employers rely upon government business? Think about defense contractors or those building highways, for a moment. How many people in those industries might find themselves out of work. How many teachers might be put out of work and what would be the impact on our children as class sizes swelled to unfathomable teacher-to-student ratios? (Of course destroying public education is also part of the Republican end game…) Or consider the fate of people who rely upon the government for assistance, whether disabled veterans, retirees, or the very poor. What do you suppose will happen to them? (I’d suggest watching Les Misérables…) I know that Republicans will likely tell the poor to “just get a job” while ignoring the difficulty getting jobs and the fact that many of those jobs don’t pay a living wage. And just look around you know. Banks and many large corporations are flush with cash. But they’re not engaged in an “explosion” of spending … and they’re telling Congress not to allow the debt ceiling to be breached.
Moreover, if we were to default, even if we keep paying interest on the bonds, eventually we have to actually pay off the bonds themselves. Are we going to have the money to pay for them? And what happens if we do need to borrow (for example, if we decide to wage another war)? Our cost to borrow will increase (i.e., the interest on the bonds will be higher) because of concern that we might default again. It’s also worth noting that following a debt default, there is a serious risk that the US Dollar might be abandoned as the world’s reserve currency. And to paraphrase my favorite line from Ghostbusters: “It would be bad.”
OK. I think this particular horse is dead.
Rep. Rokita has joined a faction of far right Republicans who are so obsessed with “debt” and “deficits” (well, other than debt and deficits related to things that they like or which help constituents or corporate overlords that they care about) that they’re willing to play chicken with and even collapse the world’s economy. Moreover, just as with their views on subjects like climate change, abortion, evolution, and other topics, actual things like empirical evidence, social science, and simple logic don’t hold sway. They’ve been drinking the Tea Party’s poisoned Kool-Aid (think Jim Jones…) for far too long and now, in their fevered delusional world, they’re willing to take the rest of us down with them. They’ve become economic terrorists who believe so firmly in their own cause, that they’re willing to detonate their device and to hell with the collateral damage they may cause. Because it would be good for the “children of tomorrow”.
And these very stupid people are governing our country.