Negotiation occurs when two parties stake out principled positions and work together to achieve reasonable compromise. Sometimes one party has more bargaining power and may negotiate a favorable deal. But extortion occurs when a person uses coercion–threats of harm–to establish bargaining power where none otherwise exists. Raising the federal debt ceiling is a routine administrative function required to meet obligations already approved by Congress, an act necessary for the economic survival of our country, not one that naturally favors any political party’s principled beliefs. The Republicans’ threat to hold the debt ceiling vote hostage–to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States if the majority party doesn’t agree to deficit reduction measures exactly as a minority of the minority party dictates–is extortion.
This is not a tactic reasonable, law-abiding people use, and the Democrats are partly to blame for even showing up at the bargaining table with terrorists. Perhaps President Obama saw an opportunity to force both sides to compromise and achieve a grand deficit reduction bargain that might be impossible to negotiate without the looming threat of economic Armegeddon. Unfortunately, the Tea Party somehow sees blowing up the world as a problem only for Democrats and has mistaken a finger on the trigger for principled leverage over their opponents. Reasonable Republicans like John McCain recognize this tactic as insane, maybe because he knows the Democrats could just as easily use the same chaos strategy to achieve their goals.
Imagine President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid lunching at the White House, shaking their heads at the legacy of George W. Bush and his Republican Congress–converting a Clinton era budget surplus into an unprecedented build-up in federal debt via unfunded tax cuts favoring the rich, an unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit favoring pharmaceutical companies, two unfunded wars, and an economic crisis fueled by Republican deregulation. They agree this Bush debt needs to be reduced, but can’t fathom spending cuts born by the poor and middle class, their constituents, to pay for economic benefits that primarily benefitted the wealthy, Republican constituents, over the past ten years.
Maybe Senator Reid leans over the exquisite china and says, “You know, Mr. President, we can make those Republican muckety-mucks pay their bill if we refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless they agree to tax increases that will cover the Bush era unfunded debt. We don’t need to compromise on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security at all! The stock market would plummet, and their constituents would go crazy.”
Chew on that.