Former Senator Alan Simpson, co-chair of the president’s committee on deficit reduction, is rubbing his hands in gleeful anticipation of the “blood bath” he foresees in April, when the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is asked to approve the traditional yearly increase in America’s national debt limit.
It’s inconceivable, of course, that these “fiscal conservatives” will refuse to raise the debt ceiling, as you might expect them to do (judging from their campaign rhetoric). That would bring the mightiest nation in the world to a staggering halt and precipitate a financial nightmare.
That’s why the annual vote to raise the debt ceiling has been a ritual exercise – until now.
But Simpson (pictured above with President Obama) predicts:
They’re going to look around and say, ‘What in the hell do we do now? We’ve got guys who will not approve the debt limit extension unless we give ’em a piece of meat, real meat.” And boy, the blood bath will be extraordinary.
(By “real meat,” Simpson means reductions in government spending. He has recommended deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs.)
Nobel prizewinning economist Paul Krugman sees Simpson’s blood lust as “one more piece of evidence that our nation is in much worse shape, much closer to a political breakdown, than most people realize.”
In his New York Times column today, Krugman explains:
There’s a legal limit to federal debt, which must be raised periodically if the government keeps running deficits; the limit will be reached again this spring. And since nobody, not even the hawkiest of deficit hawks, thinks the budget can be balanced immediately, the debt limit must be raised to avoid a government shutdown. But Republicans will probably try to blackmail the president into policy concessions by, in effect, holding the government hostage; they’ve done it before.
The Princeton professor thinks the president will probably yield to Republican pressure. He observes that:
Mr. Obama is still talking about bipartisan outreach, and maybe if he caves in sufficiently he can avoid a federal shutdown this spring. But any respite would be only temporary; again, the G.O.P. is just not interested in helping a Democrat govern.
And he adds:
It’s hard to see how this situation is resolved without a major crisis of some kind. Mr. Simpson may or may not get the blood bath he craves this April, but there will be blood sooner or later. And we can only hope that the nation that emerges from that blood bath is still one we recognize.
In my view, the brilliant economist might be putting the situation mildly. It looks to me as if a global calamity is looming and nobody is doing anything to stop it – or even prepare for it. This is not just about America, or about the American children who will go hungry, or the Americans who will lose their Social Security and Medicare, or the workers who will be laid off, or the myriad others in the United States who will be forced to endure suffering not seen since the Great Depression.
This is about the whole wide world. Think of the domino effect. Europe is already in deep economic trouble. The latest casualty is Ireland. The Greek economy has collapsed. Britain is cutting 500,000 public sector jobs and its social safety net is unraveling. What the world desperately needs is robust consumer demand – not more devastating austerity.
With cutbacks forcing Americans to do without, the world’s most powerful marketplace will be drastically diminished. Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, India, Taiwan … and a host of other countries … all depend heavily on the American consumer to buy their exports. Without sustained U.S. demand, the global economy cannot survive at anywhere near its current level.
Historically, economic failures of this magnitude have triggered widespread violence – even massive military confrontations.
I am afraid that Simpson’s “blood bath” might turn out to be more than a figure of speech. There could be real bloodshed ahead.