When President Obama took office, the economy was in free fall and losing 800,000 jobs per month. Since he took office, the U.S. has experienced a record 66 consecutive months of private sector job growth and the economy has created on average over 200,000 jobs per month since 2013. The unemployment rate is now lower than it was at anytime during the Reagan Administration. All of this has been accomplished in the face of all out GOP obstruction and in some cases, outright sabotage. The phony 2011 debt ceiling “crisis” ginned up by the GOP and the 2013 government shutdown slowed down economic growth and hurt the American people.
The economic recovery is currently facing headwinds from developments overseas. The September jobs report was disappointing (but would’ve been considered good when compared to the last Republican Presidents) due to slowing economic growth in China and Europe. The European economy has been mired in a slow growth pattern for years due to an addiction to Republican style austerity.
International economic trends aren’t the biggest threat to the recovery – the biggest obstacle to the best jobs growth since the late 1990s can be found here at home with the Republicans in Congress. Just recently, the Congressional Republicans agreed to temporarily avoid a government shutdown by passing a funding bill that finances the government through December 11. Once again, we could be facing the prospect of a damaging government shutdown during the crucial Holiday season when many retailers do most of their business. A leading Lincoln retailer once told me that the December Holiday season can make or break a small business.
The recent vote to fund the government through December 11 didn’t come easy because once again it faced significant opposition from the radical right of the GOP. Both Ben Sasse and Jeff Fortenberry voted for another government shutdown. Their votes can be seen as extreme since both Deb Fischer and Adrian Smith voted to fund the government. Fischer and Smith are both considered to be staunch conservatives in the GOP caucus.
Representative Brad Ashford was the only member of the Nebraska delegation who showed any leadership on the issue. Ashford demanded that the Congress end it’s undeserved vacation and return to Washington to address a long list of unfinished business. Congressman Ashford also offered to go without his paycheck in the event of another government shutdown.
A government shutdown isn’t the only or the most serious threat to the American people. The Department of the Treasury has announced that the debt ceiling must be raised no later than November 5 or else the country will face the prospect of a default on it’s obligations that could create a financial crisis as serious as the one we went through in 2008-09 after the collapse of Lehmann Brothers. The Republicans on Congress are facing these challenges at the same time they are going through bitterly contested leadership elections created by the surprise resignation of House Speaker John Boehner.
Unfortunately, there is some confusion about what raising the debt ceiling means and the Republicans are exacerbating the problem by misrepresenting what it’s really about. As Democrats we need to get our message out about the debt ceiling and the disastrous consequences for the economy if the GOP refuses to increase it.
Just what is raising the debt ceiling? This is a much misunderstood and fairly routine (until recently) procedure. Former President Bill Clinton explained it the following way: “The reason that raising the debt limit is so unpopular is that people think you’re voting to keep [increasing] deficit spending, instead of voting to honor obligations that were already incurred.” In other words, raising the debt ceiling isn’t like we’re raising the nation’s credit limit. Instead, it’s like the credit card bill that the nation has just received in the mail. We need to pay it in order to maintain the full faith and credit of the U.S. Failure to pay our nation’s bills by raising the debt ceiling would cause the rest of the world to lose confidence in our nation’s ability to meet its obligations, increase everybody’s interest rates, tank the stock market and send the already fragile world economy into another recession.
What the Republicans are threatening to do is to refuse to pay the bills that the U.S.A. already owes. Refusing to increase the debt ceiling would be like telling your credit card and student loan companies that your family has reached its debt limit. According to the Republicans in Congress, that means we can quit paying our bills.
Defaulting on the financial obligations of the U.S. is so radical that even the GOP aligned U.S. Chamber of Commerce has consistently come out against it in the past. In 2013, U.S. Chamber President Thomas Donohue said: “It is insane not to raise the debt ceiling. I know there are a lot of people, new people in the House and some of the guys in Heritage and other places talking about how we should burn down the House to build a new one. Well that is just fine if you knew what you were talking about, but you don’t.”
Before the Obama Presidency, raising the debt ceiling used to be a fairly routine process. When Ronald Reagan was President, the debt ceiling was raised no less than 17 times. During the Presidency of George W. Bush, the debt ceiling was raised 7 times. At no time did any party refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless the other party capitulated to its agenda. Many current Republican members of Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts or offsets during the George W. Bush Administration.
It is very important that the debt ceiling be increased and the government be funded before Boehner leaves office on October 30. The Republican House members running for the Speakership have promised more confrontations with President Obama and Kevin McCarthy has all but promised to shutdown the government if he doesn’t get his way on the Affordable Care Act and immigration.
As Nebraska Democrats, we must keep the pressure on the Nebraska members of Congress to do their jobs by voting to pay our country’s bills and fund the government. This is task is so essential that even the likes of Fischer and Smith recognize it. In contrast, Sasse and Fortenberry continue to demonstrate their extremism and recklessness.
The ultimate solution to the problem of Republican extremism is to elect more Democrats in 2016. I’m confident that the Nebraska Democrats will have an excellent election cycle in 2016 because we’ve recruited an outstanding slate of legislative candidates. Moreover, Brad Ashford is well positioned to get re-elected in Nebraska CD-02. Prominent Republicans speaking on background have told me that it will be difficult for them to defeat Representative Ashford in a high turnout Presidential election cycle.
I would urge everyone of you to contribute to the candidate (or candidates) of your choice in the 2016 election cycle. I can tell you from running for office myself, every little bit helps. I was grateful for all contributions I received – either large or small or inbetween. In addition, I would recommend that you canvas for our excellent ticket. Anymore, it’s not enough to simply turnout to vote. We need to do more than that if we are to defeat the lavishly funded GOP machine. Now let’s get it done!