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Sacrificing and taking a bad deal

On the debt ceiling deal, there's no getting around it. The Democrats lost big. The all-cuts, no-revenue deal won the day because a band of tea party-backed Republicans would rather see the full faith and credit of this nation destroyed than close tax breaks for oil companies.

If there is any silver lining, it's the revelation for all to see that one political party will capitulate for the good of the country, and one won't. For those biblically inclined it should remind them of the judgment of Solomon. Everyone knows the Old Testament tale of the wise king who determined the truth by testing a mother's love.

When two women sought to claim the same infant son as their own, Solomon called for cleaving the baby in two so each could have half. The true mother objected, relinquishing the son rather than have him killed, while the imposter accepted the verdict. Solomon gave the child to his real mother, whose instincts were to protect her son.

The parallels to the debt ceiling deal are obvious. Democrats were unwilling to sacrifice the country in furtherance of their balanced approach to deficit reduction. Their instincts to protect America were too strong and they gave in, just as in 2008 when Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, then House speaker, put partisanship aside to pass President George W. Bush's $700 billion bank bailout, averting collapse of the credit markets.

The debt ceiling showdown was a similar moment for Republicans, and they failed the love-of-country test. It unmasked House Speaker John Boehner and his colleagues as imposter patriots who willingly risked economic calamity to shield the tax breaks of the nation's richest people and corporations.

But this is just the beginning of the damaging dysfunction that's coming, because tea party-Republicans would rather blow things up than govern.

Until a deal was cut Thursday, the nation was losing $200 million a week in taxes on airline tickets because Congress had not renewed authorization for part of the Federal Aviation Administration. At a time when Republicans claim the deficit is the biggest national problem — bigger than the 9.1 percent unemployment rate or the fact that 45.7 million Americans, a record, are on food stamps — they were playing our-way-or-the-highway games that reduced revenues.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who voted "no" on the debt ceiling deal because it didn't cut the deficit enough, blocked a last-ditch bipartisan effort in the Senate to keep the taxes flowing and 74,000 FAA employees and construction workers employed. His maneuver meant Congress went on its five-week break while hundreds of airport construction projects were idled. Just what the nation needs as the specter of another recession looms.

While Thursday's temporary authorization puts people back to work and returns $30 million a day in taxes to federal coffers, it is also a symbol of congressional dysfunction. There have been 20 previous short-term FAA authorization extensions since 2007. The agency can't secure long-term funding because it's caught in a partisan fight over labor organizing in the airline industry.

It has to do with a rule adopted last year by the National Mediation Board that says union representation is decided by a majority of votes cast. This replaced a rule that counted employees who didn't vote as "no" votes. A House-passed bill that grants the FAA long-term reauthorization includes a poison pill provision reversing the board's ruling.

Apparently it is more important to tilt union elections against labor organizing than to keep hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues rolling in and our airports fully operational.

All this legislative chaos will engender more economic pain. But that is catnip for congressional Republicans, who, as their Senate leader Mitch Mc-Connell of Kentucky has admitted, count denying President Barack Obama a second term as a top priority. They seem to believe that America's economic problems — even those they exacerbate — will inure to their electoral favor.

The question for voters: What would Solomon do?

Sacrificing and taking a bad deal 08/06/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 6, 2011 4:30am]
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