This Week: Are We Going To Be Taken Seriously By The Very Serious People On The Debt Ceiling?

Nothing reminds me to take my blood pressure medicine like another Sunday morning in Absurdistan! Is it just me, or is it crazy to turn the deficit "crisis" into a political argument, and not an economic one? Have the Villagers so completely bought into the Grand Bargain narrative that it doesn't even occur to them that this is a really bad idea?

Oh, you already know the answer. These shows are nothing more than a high school vanity project for the Village elders. And that, of course, includes the media "journalists" who take part. What an incoherent mess.

Why does multimillionaire host Christian Amanpour [$2m salary, married to James Rubin, executive editor at Bloomberg News, adjunct professor at Columbia University, salaries unknown] allow Sen. Jon Kyl [worth between $519,090 to $746,082 ] to get away with saying a targeted tax increase on billionaire hedge fund managers is a "job killer"? She probably asks tougher questions of her 11-year-old son.

And OMB head Jacob Lew [In 2009, got $944,578 bailout bonus after working for Citigroup, where his salary was $1.1 million and "additional compensation". Current salary unknown] speaks in spin, all of which whizzes past Amanpour like a whiffle ball.

Could we just once have a real discussion on the nuts and bolts of the issues, instead of partisan spin?

AMANPOUR: This morning there are reports of a resurrected grand bargain. So, is a breakthrough on the horizon? Joining me, a man at the heart of these tense negotiations, White House budget director Jack Lew.

Thank you for joining me.

LEW: Good to be here, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: How worried should the American people be? Is the country going to default? Is a deal at hand?

LEW: I do not believe that responsible leaders in Washington will force this to default. I think that all of the leaders of congress and the president have acknowledged that we must raise the debt limit. And the question is how?

I think the question is, do we do more than that? Do we do as much as we can to reduce the deficit and provide some assurance that we're taking seriously the fiscal problems this country faces?

AMANPOUR: So is there a grand bargain still on the table?

LEW: Well, I think that there's multiple tracts that are being discussed. It's not a given how we get to raising the debt limit. There are some extreme voices that are saying, we should push it over the edge. I think the risk of taking that path is just enormous. The present referred to it as Armageddon. It would mean higher interest rates, which are taxed on all Americans, it would undermine our standing in the world and it could have a cloud for a long time over the United States.

I think the question how we get there -- Senator McConnell, Senator Reid have been working on a path that would, in fact, give congress perhaps a way to get that done.

I [think] the challenge is doing more. It's not enough for us just to do what we have to do. We have to do as much as we possibly can to deal with the fiscal challenges.

AMANPOUR: Sitting here today with the time ticking away. What do you think is the realistic? Will it be the McConnell sort of last-ditch effort which allows the president to raise the debt ceiling and allows Republicans or anybody to register their disapproval of it?

LEW: I think that what we face now is not a challenge of do we have the time. It's a question, do we have the will.

The president has shown through his leadership that we must take action, we must take it now. He's spoken to the issue in his State of the Union, in his budget, he spoke to it over the last few days to the public. He is pressing these discussions forward that we should do as much as we can. And he's willing to take on some very, very difficult issues that will require for both sides to move into areas to make them uncomfortable to get this done.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's talk about entitlements. The Democrats, you've heard Nancy Pelosi, you've heard Senator Reid talk about not touching entitlement. Is that just a public posture or will that be part of a deal?

LEW: I think it's very, very hard for Democrats to make these changes in entitlement programs and for good reason. They have an effect on people that's really very significant.

We are concerned first and foremost about the stability of Medicare as a system to provide for the medical needs of our elderly. It does contribute to the problems we face in terms of rising costs over the years. The challenge is could we get a balanced package together? It's not fair to ask senior citizens to pay a price, to ask families paying for their college educations, for their children to pay a price, but to leave the most privileged out of the bargain.

And everything has to be on the table.

Um, Jack? We've already paid a price. High unemployment, declining wages and public services. We had our turn, leave us out of this "balance" argument. It's their turn, the rich people. The people like you - and Christiane.

AMANPOUR: But who would be part of the big deal -- entitlement cuts, correct?

LEW: I think the president made clear that, depending on the size of the package, there would be different kinds of things that could be done in entitlements. There are some relatively small technical changes and there are structural changes.

In order to get the kinds of structural reforms that would be needed in a long run, there has to be a balanced package that puts taxes, revenues as well as spending on the table.

There's that "balance" fetish again. Hey Jack, WE PAID AT THE OFFICE!!!

AMANPOUR: Does the president have his own plan? What is on the table? You saw Speaker Boehner saying where are the president's cards?

LEW: I think Speaker knows quite well how far the president is willing to go. There have been detailed conversations on many, many subjects. And I think the president has shown that he's willing to move into space that is a very hard place for Democrats to go. And the challenge is, can we find a place where there will be some kind of fairness and balance.

And leadership takes partnership as well. The president has shown a willingness to go there. We need a partner to work with.

Yes, and apparently leadership takes deep cynicism and an abiding faith in disreputable economic theories -- that just happen to dovetail with the desires of the elite. Funny how that works out!

AMANPOUR: If it gets down to that, would the president, as Representative Cantor suggest, do a one-year extension to save the country from going into default?

LEW: The president has been very clear on that subject. It would be a very unacceptable outcome to have...

AMANPOUR: But would he do it?

LEW: He's made clear that he will not have this debate over should we raise the national debt a year from now. It would be a bad thing for the economy and a bad thing for the country.

AMANPOUR: So to be clear, he could be pushed into default then?

LEW: I do not believe the country will be pushed into default. I think congress knows what it has to do. It's got time do it. The president has made clear what he is prepared to do and the parties are going to have to come together.

It's kind of unfortunate that things always have to get to the last minute. Sometimes there are no consequences, right now, we're in a place where the world is watching. And we should get our business done, congress should get its job done and the president has been working every day for the last month trying to work with them to get it done.

AMANPOUR: And some kind of a deal, whether it's the grand bargain, or the Mitch McConnell last-ditch effort, plus whatever it might be. Would the president agree to any deal that does not include revenue raising?

LEW: I think the president made clear that there are reasonable steps that can be made to reduce spending. We've already made many, many deep cuts in spending. There's more restraint that we think is in order. He has made it clear that for a big deal, there will have to be balance between revenue and spending.

The question is how much can we get done? And the president's view is clear. We should get as much done as we possibly can to give assurance to the market and to the American people that we got our fiscal house in order.

No matter who we have to screw and leave by the side of the road. Tough luck, chumpies!

AMANPOUR: So if you had to predict right now, what would be the deal that will get done to avoid this deadline, this potential catastrophe as we're calling it?

LEW: So I think the minimum is I believe the debt will be extended. I think notwithstanding the voices of a few who are willing to play with Armageddon, responsible leaders in Washington or not.

Our efforts over the next days will be to, in addition to that, do as much as we possibly can to make the tough decisions -- this is a question of leaders coming together and saying, we are going to do hard things on both sides. And the time is now, as the president said, if not now, when.

Yes, because that's what disaster capitalism is all about: Seizing the opportunity.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Jack Lew, thank you so much of you for joining us.

LEW: Thank you.

NOTE: I'm continuing my little experiment (inspired by this) of illustrating just how large a class divide exists between us and our elected representatives. As has been reported elsewhere, members of Congress seem to have amazing luck with the stock market - frequently beating the Street by significant margins. So let's keep in mind that their interests may not always align with ours.

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