One of the thing I learned while in the Clinton White House is that most Washington rumors, I’d say generally around two out of three, are false. In a deadline/crisis period that number goes to about 95 percent false. And by rumors, I am including most news reports, which trade in rumor, gossip, and leaks designed to help the agenda of the leaker. So most of what is coming out of D.C. right now on the default crisis is garbage. What deal is up and what deal is fading changes so fast that it may even be true at the moment it is reported, but could be completely reversed 15 minutes later.
So every time your blood pressure spikes in the coming days, just take a Valium like a normal person (as the sister-in-law character from “Desperately Seeking Susan” would say), and go do something other than watching cable TV.
Having said all that, though, there are some things that seem a lot more certain. The economy, already stalled, will have more roadblocks piled in its way. Middle-class and poor people will get more cuts in government programs that really do matter to their lives and their incomes. Nothing will be done to actually make the investments in infrastructure and housing and manufacturing we so desperately need. It is a sad state of affairs.
Many people, me included, have all kinds of theories — short-term and long-term — as to how we have gotten into this terrible place, but that is not my subject today. I want to talk about what happens if the worst of the rumors becomes mainly what happens. I still am hoping against hope that the final deal the President agrees to will not be as bad as the current rumors have it. Maybe the details will be a lot better than what they sound like today. Maybe the rumor mill just has it wrong, and that the deal that happens doesn’t have cuts in Social Security or Medicare that hurt the middle class. Maybe the McConnell-Reid compromise, which right now is the best of the deals out there, will come back into favor. But if this deal does as much damage to the middle class and poor as is currently rumored, if any tax increases are fudged so that might not even happen at all, then I think progressives have to declare all-out war on the deal and try to rally Democratic members of the House and Senate to vote against it and defeat it.
I want to be clear: I don’t believe that means declaring war on the President. The idea of Bachmann or Romney or one of these other Ryan-budget loving extremists as President, with these Republicans in charge of Congress, is a mortal threat to everything any progressive person, or for that matter any of the 80 percent of Americans who care about the middle class, cares about. Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and Pell Grants would likely be gone, not just cut, by the time they were through. We still have to help get Obama re-elected, no matter how much we oppose him on specific issues. But just because you support his re-election doesn’t mean you have to support a terrible budget deal. If it is as bad as it looks like it might be, we have to leave no stone unturned in tracking down every Democratic vote to beat this bill. As bad as a default will be, and it would be very bad for the economy, decimating the middle class for generations would be worse. I also think if a bad deal goes down, the President and Congressional leaders would very quickly pass a version of the McConnell compromise, which would not be nearly as damaging as a bad deal.
We live in dark times, and they will get darker if the President is not re-elected. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the Democratic Party has to support him when he is wrong on policy.