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Burning down the house

Until recently, the incessant debt limit chatter hadn’t really scared me, because Congress wasn’t going to refuse to raise it, right? I’m not crazy about the nation’s finances, but we’ve always figured it out without burning down the house.

Then I made the mistake of bursting this state of semi-blissful indifference by exploring what it would actually mean if we bumped into this ceiling. First off, we hit our heads in May, but the Treasury secretary pulled some MacGyver-like maneuvers to squeeze out three more months of space. What was his trick? Financial duct tape — borrowed, of course.

But now we’re at the point where only Congress can come to the rescue. However, some junior members are like Beavis and Butt-head with fire and gasoline. No matter how many adults tell them of the dangers, they want to strike the match. Besides, the flames could be totally awesome.

Just how awesome? The Bipartisan Policy Center ( put together a slide show of graphics to illustrate the point. If it were a movie, it would be called “Scream!”

Let’s take a look at one of the possible scenarios if Congress fails to act.

In August, the federal government would have $307 billion in spending obligations but only $173 billion on hand. The tea partyers’ solution is to spend what you have and call it good. And who would decide who gets paid and who doesn’t? The very government they distrust.

The amount available to the Treasury Department would cover payments for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, interest on Treasury securities, defense vendor bills and unemployment benefits. Those high priority items would consume the entire $173 billion, which means no money for military active duty pay, veterans services, IRS refunds, poverty assistance, federal salaries and benefits, education and transportation grants and on and on.

When the screaming begins, these juvenile fire-starters can cackle, “Heh-heh. Living within our means is cool!”

Scoring irrelevance. A group called “We Believe-We Vote” is interviewing local candidates and posting online evaluations based on “biblical and traditional values,” which, as it turns out, are the same thing.

For instance, mayoral candidates are asked their positions on abortion. I’m not sure what mayors are supposed to do about that issue. Shut off water to pro-choicers? Fill only the potholes bedeviling pro-lifers?

Candidates were downgraded if they didn’t appreciate the threat to sovereignty posed by something called “U.N. Agenda 21,” supported the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, or favored cap-and-trade solutions to limit fossil fuel emissions.

In any event, the place to visit is if you want to learn where the candidates stand on issues totally unrelated to the offices they’re seeking.

Pledge of allegiance. Candidates are being asked to sign so many pledges that pretty soon Congress won’t have to call any roll call votes. Just check the pledges.

In fact, members of Congress won’t even need to head to Washington, D.C. After all, what’s there to discuss? Just introduce a bill and check the pledges. Or, to save time, check the pledges and skip writing the bill.

This will free up valuable time so candidates can hold town hall discussions where they can impart the news that their minds were made up long ago. Soon, there will be no public forums, which will give the candidates more time to collect campaign contributions from special interests … right after signing the pledge.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.


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