The tourniquet applied by the outgoing Congress to the economy allows a two-month breather before we are consumed by the next deadline. The president and his party can allow themselves a brief moment of celebration for imposing higher taxes on the richest Americans, but the next stage in fixing the nation’s fiscal problems may not be as easy. By the end of February, lawmakers must find enough cuts in public spending to allow the debt ceiling to be raised. Two more months of uncertainty will prevent businesses and consumers from making spending decisions that would bolster the economic recovery.
The devil is not so much in the detail of the arguments to come as the big picture that frames the debilitating running debate. While the difference between the sides is ostensibly over taxes and public spending and borrowing, the more profound division is over where government should begin and end. For many of the Republican Party’s Tea Party insurgents, the choice is even more fundamental: whether there should be a government at all. Their unbending position, demanding an ever-diminishing role for the federal government, has levied an enormous unnecessary cost on everyone else.
Since Republicans regained control of the House in the 2010 mid-terms, when the Tea Party tide was in full force, they have attempted to freeze the size of government, coincidentally putting a brake on economic recovery. They have vetoed attempts at further economic stimulus, encouraged America’s economy to be downgraded by the ratings agencies by threatening not to extend the debt ceiling, and tried to veto any and every tax increase in the fiscal cliff talks. Their aim is to shrink government by starving it of funds. Such uncompromising absolutism has led to the dampening of business confidence and investment that would have created jobs.
It is not just the economy that has suffered from the absolute positions held by the anti-government rump in the GOP. Their insistence that the Founding Fathers intended us to be allowed to carry guns of any sort, including the rapid-fire assault weapon that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, last month, continues to hamper attempts to curb the nation’s murderous gun violence. Ghosts from the eighteenth century are preying on our school-children, abetted by those who believe that compromise on amending our gun laws is surrendering to the forces of big government. Such unbending absolutism costs human lives.
Similarly, suspicion of government is behind the growth in home schooling, that narrows the education of children, deprives them of a sense of community, and diminishes their social skills. It came as little surprise to read reports that the Newtown shooter was kept home from school by his mother, a “survivalist” or “Doomsday Prepper”, who stockpiled food and guns because she expected an imminent economic apocalypse. Such paranoia about the role of government is a recurring theme in our society’s most appalling massacres, from the bombing of the Federal Government Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 by the anti-government militiaman Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168, including 19 children, to the FBI siege of the anti-government Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, in 1993, that left 76 dead.