On the Aftermath of an Averted Government Shutdown

When I woke Saturday morning, the crisis I expected on Friday — a government shutdown — had been averted. At the last possible moment, President Obama and Speaker Boehner reached an agreement, the Republicans would give up on defunding Planned Parenthood and the EPA, and in exchange the Democrats would agree to slightly deeper spending cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Was it a good deal?

Neither side of the ideological divide seems particularly happy with the budget deal. On the left, there’s a perception that the Republicans won. On the right, there’s disappointment that the budget doesn’t cut enough.

And the result, with both sides going to the wire, doesn’t instill me with confidence that the adults will be in the room for the debt ceiling vote later this spring.

The reality, of course, is that the Republicans, in spite of their rhetoric for a balanced budget, aren’t actually serious about balancing the budget — the $39 billion in spending cuts they got out of the budget negotiations don’t even come close to offsetting the $150 billion dollars of tax cuts they wanted and received in December.

Republicans have been crying for two years plus that Democrats are trying to destroy the American way of life with financial and environmental regulations, with universal health care, with economic stimulus packages to kickstart a sputtering economy. All of these things, according to Republicans, are anathema to the American way of life.

Even if the Democrats were destroying the American way of life — and I don’t believe that they are — the Republicans are doing something far more insidious.

The Republicans are destroying the American quality of life.

Republicans want to resegregate society. Republicans want to destroy public education. Republicans want to destroy what remains of the social safety net. Republicans want to do away with workplace safety regulations and child labor laws and overtime laws. Republicans want to drive wages down. Republicans want to make the rich richer and everyone else poorer. The United States has always prided itself on having a triving middle class. The budget roadmap proposed by Republican Paul Ryan would gut the middle class, and destroy the American quality of life.

Basically, everything that the world admires about the United States and its society, the Republican Party wants to tear down. By gutting programs that benefit social mobility like education and making health care more expensive, the Republicans’ policies will push more and more people into a permanent underclass. Trying to balance the economy on the backs of hundreds of millions of Americans either barely scraping by or underwater (in other words, like we have now, but much worse) would be like trying to build a pyramid on quicksand; the pyramid is going to sink under its own weight and the peak won’t remain stable. Republicans are working very hard to destroy the American quality of life.

I just don’t understand why.

Republican policies only make sense if they assume that the crisis won’t stabilize, and so those at the peak need to get what they can get before the crash.

That’s a very depressing thought.

The more depressing thought, though, is that President Obama and the Democrats don’t have the political will to combat the Republicans’ assault on the American quality of life. And the last week, to say nothing of the last six months (like the President’s capitulation to the Republicans on extending the unaffordable Bush tax cuts) does not make me optimistic for the next two years.

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