According to the news media, America's biggest concern right now should be the silliness of Jack Lew's signature. That's the kind of week it's been, at least among the inside-the-Beltway cocktail party circuit.
Lew has been nominated by President Obama for Treasury Secretary. Because of this, his signature is going to be required on all paper currency issued. And his signature is amusing, according to those in the Fourth Estate whose job it is to point out important political developments in our Nation's Capital. Obama even got in on the fun, joking that he's going to require at least one legible letter in Lew's signature. Lew is reportedly working on a new signature, as Washington breathlessly awaits.
There are times, when writing about the political world, when it is impossible not to feel like I am trapped inside a Jonathan Swift satire. This is one of those times. Real life and farce blur into one, and we all pretend this is normal. Sigh.
If you'd like a reprieve from the nonsense, R. J. Eskow over at the Huffington Post has a very intelligent article (well worth a read) on the serious questions he'd like Lew to answer during his confirmation hearings. But this sort of sober analysis is noticeable in its absence elsewhere in the media, this week.
The other Obama nominee making news is former Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican named for the Secretary of Defense job. You'd think that a Republican would be acceptable to other Republicans still in office, but you would be wrong about that. Hagel apparently didn't get the memo that Israel holds a veto over who gets to be United States Secretary of Defense, or something -- it's hard to tell what with all the smoke and noise. Hagel's other sin appears to be that he does not hold a neo-conservative worldview, but this is even more confusing as it has been years since the neo-cons ran either the White House or the Pentagon, so they really shouldn't have a veto over anything, at this point.
But these two nominees will go through the dirty-laundry-airing phase in the upcoming weeks in far greater detail, so for now we'll just note their nominations and move along.
Vice President Joe Biden deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week, for heading up the task force on what to do about the gun problem. But since he isn't going to formally announce his recommendations until next week, we're going to wait and see what they actually contain.
Representative Sam Farr has also earned an Honorable Mention this week for getting his legislation passed and signed into law, creating America's newest National Park. Formerly known as Pinnacles National Monument, our nation's 59th National Park is now the closest one to the San Francisco Bay Area. Anyone visiting the Central Coast area of California should be encouraged to check out the newly-elevated Pinnacles National Park. If you're lucky, you may catch sight of an endangered California Condor, since they are released into the wild in Pinnacles.
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to four senators this week: Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Patty Murray, and Dick Durbin. These four just sent a letter to President Obama urging him to exert his authority to completely remove the threat of not raising America's debt ceiling. This extraordinary letter goes on to state:
In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension only as part of an unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis -- without congressional approval, if necessary
To put it another way, they are telling Obama to go ahead and use the full force and power of the Fourteenth Amendment to remove the debt ceiling football from the political fray once and for all. More on this in the talking points, but we did want to single out these four senators for going public with their letter pre-approving such a move, should it become necessary. For doing so, they all have earned the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
[Congratulate Senator Dick Durbin on his Senate contact page, Senator Patty Murray on her Senate contact page, Senator Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, and Senator Chuck Schumer on his Senate contact page to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
Senator Jay Rockefeller IV (or, as we like to call him, "Rocky IV") has just announced he is stepping down and will not run for re-election in 2014.
The news stories about Rocky IV's retirement are, no surprise, filled with glowing praise for his work with the poor and his support for coal miners in his adopted home state of West Virginia. But we will always remember Rocky IV for his work granting immunity to the telecommunications corporations for participating in widespread warrantless wiretapping. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rocky IV quickly shot to the top of the "all time" list for winners of the MDDOTW award. Since that time, others have passed his total of six awards, leaving him currently tied for sixth place with the likes of Blanche Lincoln and Rod Blagojevich. But we'll always remember Rocky IV as the guy who rewrote the FISA laws to get his buddies in the telecommunications industry off the hook (so to speak). No surprise that the same industry paid a lot of money towards his campaigns over the years. So we won't exactly be joining in with all the "sorry to see you go" media chorus over Rocky IV leaving.
The guy we really wanted to hear was retiring this week, unfortunately, didn't. Attorney General Eric Holder announced he is happy to continue leading the Justice Department for as long as Obama will allow him to. Obama, sadly, did indeed allow Holder to stay. Since Obama seems to currently be having a "binders full of women" problem with his cabinet picks, might we suggest finding some woman attorney who is qualified to serve as A.G.? Anyone's got to be better than Holder, at this point.
Our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is also a multiple award, to the seven Senate Democrats who have not gotten on board with filibuster reform yet. There is a movement to force filibustering senators to actually filibuster -- you know, stand up and talk endlessly, in Mr.-Smith-Goes-To-Washington style. They've got 48 of the 50 votes they need (with Biden's vote to break the tie, if necessary). But, for some inexplicable reason, seven normally-reasonable Democrats haven't indicated they'll vote for it. These seven are: Senators Carl Levin, Mark Pryor, Patrick Leahy, Max Baucus, Jack Reed, Barbara Boxer, and Dianne Feinstein. Now, it's normal to see people like Dianne Feinstein voting with Republicans, but Barbara Boxer? Pat Leahy? What the heck are they thinking?
If you support forcing senators to actually talk when filibustering and if you are a constituent of any of these seven, please take the time to call them up and express your displeasure that they haven't gotten on board yet. All we need is two more votes, people, out of these seven.
For now, though, all seven are our winners of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.
[Contact Senator Max Baucus on his Senate contact page, Senator Barbara Boxer on her Senate contact page, Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, Senator Patrick Leahy on his Senate contact page, Senator Carl Levin on his Senate contact page, Senator Mark Pryor on his Senate contact page, and Senator Jack Reed on his Senate contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]
Volume 240 (1/11/13)
This week, instead of our usual talking points, we instead are going to reach 68 weeks into the past -- all the way back to FTP  -- to dust off the following suggested Obama speech.
When I wrote this, I suggested it as a private speech given to the Republican congressional leadership. But because we are right back to the exact same point, I now think Obama should (with very minor rewriting) include this in his upcoming "State Of The Union" speech. He's going to give the speech late this year, in mid-February, so the timing would really be perfect.
Anyway, here's what I wrote over a year and a half ago -- the last time we had a giant debt ceiling fight. The only other thing I'd add to it would be tossing the phrase (in relation to the Republicans' reaction) "14th nervous breakdown" in there somewhere, just as a garnish.
The Fourteenth option
[Remarks by President Obama to the debt ceiling meeting, as one hopes he would deliver]
You know, Republicans have been making a lot of noise in the past few years about following the United States Constitution to the letter. So I'd like to take this opportunity to quote from the Fourteenth Amendment, if I may:
"The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."
This amendment was passed after the Civil War, and this particular passage goes on to state that the United States government will not be responsible for debts incurred by the Confederacy, and also that the U.S. couldn't be sued for the value of emancipated slaves by slave owners deprived of their "property" as a result.
This language was inserted into the Fourteenth Amendment for a reason -- to keep future Congresses from ever questioning federal debts. This way, even if a future Congress voted later on to actually pay the Confederate debt, this law would be unconstitutional and would not stand. It also prevents any Congress from ever questioning in any way the public debt of the United States.
If the people in this room don't come to an agreement by [insert deadline], then I am going to act. I have already informed the television networks to reserve time on that evening for a speech to the nation, where I will explain that the debt ceiling is, in and of itself, unconstitutional.
To be blunt, I will play the Fourteenth card. I will use the Fourteenth option, if on that date we have not yet announced a deal.
Now, before you say anything, let me just spin out a scenario for you Republicans, because this is the way I see the whole thing playing out, and I want you to understand where I'm coming from.
In the first place, the plain language of the Constitution backs up what I will do. After whipping the public up over keeping to the actual text of the Constitution for years now, you Republicans are going to have a tough time explaining to the public why you now can't hold yourselves to what the Constitution actually says in black and white.
In the second place, if I take this route, then negotiations over budget cutting will be at an end. I will explain to the public that we can have this whole fight over again during the budget negotiations for next year, but that I simply cannot allow Congress' refusal to act to destroy not only the American economy, but likely the entire world financial system as well. We can have this debate later, in other words, when it may mean a federal government shutdown -- but when it will most decidedly not mean the federal government defaults on its obligations.
In the third place, if I win this fight, then you will never again have the power to hold the economy hostage over raising the debt ceiling, because the debt ceiling as we know it today simply will no longer exist. Again, I will explain to the American public that when Congress passes a budget then they have incurred debts and obligations which -- according to the Constitution -- cannot be questioned. Once Congress approves a budget, it has automatically approved whatever debt is necessary to pay the debts contained within that budget. Voting on debt ceiling increases will become a thing of the past, ladies and gentleman.
Legally, I think I'm on pretty solid ground. Historically, I'm on solid ground. Politically, I'm on even more solid ground. And as a purely practical matter, I'm standing on granite bedrock. Think about it -- what would you congressional Republicans do in response? Well, you have two real options -- take me to court, or impeach me. Do you really think you'll get enough votes in the Senate to remove me through the impeachment process? I don't. As for taking me to court, who would the aggrieved party in this lawsuit be? Congress. After all, by asserting my constitutional prerogative, I would be saving the United States from the very unpalatable option of defaulting on our public debt. The only party harmed by my doing so would be Congress, who thinks they have the power to ignore the plain language of the Constitution. But don't forget that for Congress to sue me, you'd need to get both houses to agree to do so. Once again, do you think you'll be able to get that through the Senate? I don't.
Even assuming you somehow can cross that bridge, then what would you do? Ask a judge for an injunction which would -- since you hadn't passed the debt ceiling extension -- immediately put the country into default? Do you really think the public's going to rally behind that? I don't. How long do you think this legal fight would last? Do you really want this to be the key issue of next year's election? I don't think you do, personally, since you'll be on the side of immediate default, and I will be on the side of acting in the best interests of the national fiscal security of the United States of America. You'll be on the side of "higher interest rates immediately for all Americans!" and I'll be on the side of "That's insane!" And in the meantime we'll be busy mining all the Republican statements in favor of George W. Bush's concept of the "unitary executive," rest assured.
Granted, it would indeed be a political showdown, and you might possibly have a prayer of winning it. I think I'm on pretty solid ground, though. In fact, I think I'm on such solid ground that I am perfectly willing to take this route.
Don't read this as a threat, either -- read it as a promise. If the people within this room cannot come to an agreement before [insert exact time and date], then I will be appearing on every network to explain to the public why we're never going to have the debt ceiling debate ever again, because even admitting the existence of such congressional power is in itself unconstitutional.
I've positioned myself for the next election as "the adult in the room." This is only going to feed into that perception -- especially if the House begins impeachment proceedings because I refused to let the country default on its debts. I've also positioned the Democrats as being willing to compromise, while Republicans refuse to even bargain in good faith. This will also feed into that. Republicans have positioned themselves as defenders of the original text of the Constitution. I'll be on the right side of that one, too. We'll be painting Republicans as taking their marching orders from the most extreme element of their party, far outside what mainstream voters think.
Having said all of that, I'm going to swear to you right here and now that I'm going to keep all of these thoughts within this room, and not in public -- and I think you'll all agree as well that it's for the best that you not leak my position on this matter. If we can get a deal before the deadline, then nobody ever has to know about this speech. I will use my television time to announce the deal and praise the Republican leadership who helped make the deal possible. I promise you I will not mention the Fourteenth Amendment, and will answer any queries about it with some version of: "The negotiations never got to that point." I will not attempt to score political points off the possibility of using the Fourteenth option, and I will not allow anyone from the White House to do so either. I think a deal is possible, and I think we can get to the point where both parties can go back to their caucuses in Congress and sell it to enough members that it will pass both houses. I will work every minute necessary to make this happen. Right up to that deadline.
But once we pass that deadline, then these talks will be over, and I will be making the case to the American people that I must act to pay the debts that this Congress already voted to approve in their budget for this year. We can have that political fight, if you'd like, and we can push it to a real constitutional crisis which will last throughout the entire election season. I'm willing to do so, because if it becomes the only option available to me to stop a worldwide financial crisis which would doom the economy for years to come, then I will indeed take that option. So your choice is: make a deal before then, or try to explain to the American public why the words of the Constitution are not correct. I'll leave you alone for a while to think about it for a while. But don't take too long, folks. The clock is ticking.
-- Chris Weigant
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground