I know all about Arnold’s love child and that IMF guy’s tumble with the hotel chambermaid. The American media have made sure that I don’t miss a detail of these important developments.
Meanwhile, under the radar, the country cruises to a disastrous showdown as the Republicans who control the House of Representatives prepare to cut off the government’s funds.
That matters a lot more to me personally than Arnold’s sex life – or even the execution of bin Laden. I’m sure it’s morally important to figure out whether torture really helped track down the terrorist king-pin, but I have to admit I’m more interested in the fate of my Social Security check.
And it looks as if those crazy Republicans in Congress are fixing to shut down Social Security payments along with everything else the government pays out.
Here’s how Kevin G. Hall explained the looming crisis in a McClatchy Newspapers report yesterday:
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner informed Congress on Monday that the United States has reached its legal debt limit, setting off a ticking time bomb that could explode in less than three months if lawmakers can’t bridge differences and allow more government borrowing.
In hitting the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling — the limit on how much the government can borrow — the Obama administration on Monday began temporarily halting payments to the retirement and federal pension accounts of federal workers and started borrowing from those funds, to be restored later.
Republicans who control the House of Representatives vow to link raising the debt ceiling to cuts in government spending of at least equal measure. In a combative statement Monday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) upped the ante.
“As I have said numerous times, there will be no debt limit increase without serious budget reforms and significant spending cuts, cuts that are greater than any increase in the debt limit.” Boehner has called previously for $2 trillion in spending cuts as part of any deal to raise the debt ceiling.
Wisconsin Republican US Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, repeated the linkage in a speech Monday in Obama’s adopted hometown.
“For every dollar the president wants to raise the debt ceiling, we can show him plenty of ways to cut far more than a dollar of spending,” Ryan told the Economic Club of Chicago. “Given the magnitude of our debt burden, the size of the spending cuts should exceed the size of the president’s debt limit increase.”
Republicans rule out tax increases and any significant cuts in defense spending. The United States continues to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan paid for with borrowing, the only time in US history that wars weren’t offset at least partially with some sort of tax.
Democrats insist that Social Security is off the table, as is an end to Medicare, but they are open to changes in Medicare funding.
If that doesn’t sound like a stand-off, I don’t know what does. And Hall adds:
If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling by August 2, it would force the Obama administration to choose between paying creditors or paying for military operations, Social Security and Medicare payments, and other commitments.
You don’t have to be an economist to figure out what would happen to America’s credit rating if it defaulted on its debts. And it doesn’t take much skill at math to calculate the resulting impact on the nation’s – make that the world’s – economy.
And wouldn’t it be jolly for Republicans if the president had to stop Social Security and Medicare payments with an election coming up next November?
I’m sure the slick Republican Public Relations machine would find some way of blaming President Obama and the Democrats. That’s one thing Republicans are really good at.
So I wouldn’t put it past them to precipitate a government shutdown.
Now, I’d better try to figure out how Sandra and I would manage if the Social Security deposit is not made.