"Beat the Reaper": The game show that's not quite as ridiculous as "Deal 4 the Debt Ceiling" (UPDATED) | Citizen

"Beat the Reaper": The game show that's not quite as ridiculous as "Deal 4 the Debt Ceiling" (UPDATED)

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illustration by Tyler Bergholz for the Independent Weekly
  • illustration by Tyler Bergholz for the Independent Weekly

Update, 9:45 p.m.: My reaction to Obama's speech? Once again, he confuses everyone by starting with why the deficits are so high when the subject is supposed to be the catastrophe if we don't increase the debt ceiling. Deficits and debt are not the same thing, and Obama is in this mess because he's allowed the GOP to hold the debt ceiling hostage to the unrelated subject of how to cut future deficits. As for Boehner, he responded with complete propaganda aided by total disdain for the facts. 100% B.S.

From this afternoon:

Pondering the situation in Washington, where all is madness, I found myself trying to remember the name of the Firesign Theater bit in which game-show contestants compete for prizes at the risk of their lives. "Beat the Reaper!" it was. (Thanks, Google.) You had 10 seconds to guess which fatal disease the host just injected into your arm. Fail ... and the antidote wouldn't have time to work. You think it's what? "Oh, I'm sorry, no, the correct answer is the Bubonic Plague. I'm afraid that you didn't ... Beat the Reaper."

And so it is with the current negotiations over whether to increase the nation's debt ceiling. Oh, I'm sorry, time's up, you've failed to increase the debt ceiling in the time allotted, so you've committed suicide as a nation. But thanks for playing!.

I mean, talk about funny. You make up a character, let's call him the President of the United States. Let's say that he actually decides to negotiate with Congress about whether to pay the nation's debts. Then let's make up some congressional "leaders," you know, idiot characters who actually don't want to pay the nation's debts because that'll show everybody — y'know, when the country's dead — that borrowing money was the devil's playground.

So now, let's start the clock while they negotiate — but the negotiations are about something else. Now, we have a humorous premise.

What should they negotiate about? Doesn't matter, how about the NBA lockout ... and if they can't put an NBA deal together in time, well, too bad but the nation's debts don't get paid, the country goes into default and you didn't Beat the Reaper.

Well, you say, you're just being stupid, because this isn't about something inconsequential like the NBA, it's about whether the nation will continue to borrow money in the future, or whether it will come to its senses and balance the federal budget the same as your household budget. (Wait a minute, you borrowed money to buy your house? And your car? And college tuitions? And your beach house? But I digress.)

And my answer is, as it was three months ago, the NBA lockout is just as relevant to the question of whether to increase the federal debt ceiling as the issue of future federal budgets. Which is to say, neither is relevant nor is anything else.

Because, and here's the point, the federal debt ceiling is about debts already incurred or being incurred in the current budget year — debts that must be paid.

There's no question about it, nothing to bargain about, nothing to trade for, nothing to deal away. The debt ceiling must be increased, and the debts must be paid.

To make the issue of paying the nation's debts subject to doing something else first is pure extortion.

Still, extortion happens. So out of a surfeit of caution, and in case anyone (read: any Congress) ever did try to put a gun to the nation's head and say, e.g., Unless the President does what we want about, uh, abortions, we'll refuse to raise the debt ceiling and the country will default on its debts, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, Section 4, states plainly: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law ... shall not be questioned."

[Q: What's missing in the ellipsis? A: It's a clause stating, Don't even try to read the public debt as not including the costs of fighting the Civil War.]

The public debt shall not be questioned.

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We have two debates going on in Washington right now. One is whether to pay the public debt already incurred. The second is what future budgets should be. The two are unrelated. That the congressional Republicans wanted the two things tied together — that they threatened to blow up the country if they didn't get their way on future spending — is irresponsible to the max. That President Obama entered into negotiations with them anyway — played "Beat the Reaper" with the nation's credit anyway — is just as bad and a failure to do his constitutional duty.

The question of the President's negotiating skills over budget issues can wait for another day. Suffice it say, he's down to his skivvies and the Republicans are still fully dressed.

The only saving grace will be if the President, finally refusing to let the Republicans pull his shorts down, invokes the 14th Amendment before next Tuesday and says, Boys (they're all boys in the GOP), I was never negotiating with you in the first place. It was all a parody designed to show how irresponsible you are. But thanks for playing ... Beat the Reaper!

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Note: Alert readers may've noticed that in the original game-show format, the negotiations were about the NFL lockout. No sooner did I post it than, oops, NFL deal struck! So I quick changed all the NFL references to NBA.

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