6 C
Byron Shire
August 15, 2022

Obama’s twin challenges: why debt is easier than guns

Latest News

Mud benda rant

Regarding last week’s Splendour Festival and all the ‘haters’ out there. I took along a few seriously fun-deprived teenage...

Other News

Car park housing

In recent weeks the idea by Council to develop the existing car park in Station Street has dropped out...

Byron women’s AFL narrowly avoids first loss

A battle royale unfolded last Saturday afternoon at the Cavanbah oval when the Byron Bay women’s AFL team took...

Council: Goonellabah park not available for pods

Tuesday’s debate in the Lismore Council chambers was mostly about the community’s need for open, green space for sport and recreation balanced against the need for places to live.

Criminalising protest

In another Sstate government descent into criminalising protest, to protect their own government’s sabotage of a liveable planet, last...

Secrecy surrounds govt’s Reconstruction Corp

Echo questions remain unanswered around the advisory board appointments for the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation, which the NSW government says will help with ‘rebuilding flood-affected Northern Rivers’. 

Our growth under threat, say local distillers

Local independent distillers behind iconic labels Ink Gin and Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin say a longstanding ‘bad’ government policy that taxes spirits unfairly, compared to other alcohol such as wine, is putting thousands of jobs at risk in a ‘dangerous high inflation environment’.


Gun-rights advocates gather outside the Utah Capitol during the National Gun Appreciation Day rally on Saturday, in Salt Lake City. Photo Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

Charles Richardson, Crikey

Barack Obama was already facing a difficult time with Congress over the debt ceiling increase and the postponed ‘fiscal cliff’ automatic budget cuts, but now he’s bought himself an additional fight in the shape of his plan for gun-law reform. Both issues will be a test of his standing at the beginning of his second term.

In order to understand his prospects of success, however, it’s necessary to look at how the issues are significantly different.

Gun control fits the normal paradigm of a legislative negotiation. One side supports a policy proposal, the other is opposed to it. Most of the Republicans genuinely don’t want gun reform to pass (either because they genuinely believe it’s bad policy, or because they’re in hock to the gun lobbyists); most of the Democrats, for corresponding reasons, do.

That means that passage of the president’s measures will have to involve some combination of the usual tactics: changing people’s minds through persuasion; compromising on the detail of the proposals; picking off enough marginal legislators to cobble together a majority; offering a trade-off in some other area; using public opinion to pressure those who are worried about marginal seats. This is all pretty familiar stuff.

Even a routine legislative negotiation offers opportunities for playing ‘chicken’: opponents may vote for amendments that they don’t actually agree with in order to reduce the chance of the overall legislation being approved, or conversely vote against amendments that would water it down because they prefer their chances of defeating the original package. But both sides still understand what they’re dealing with, and their strategies can be rationally comprehended.

The debt ceiling negotiation, however, isn’t like this. If the ceiling is not lifted, the US government would apparently become legally unable to pay the bills it has already incurred. No-one really knows what the effect of this would be, but it’s not likely to be good.

While a few Republicans may actually think that default is better than incurring any additional debt, that remains a fringe belief. For most of the GOP caucus, the debt ceiling is an opportunity to get other things they want (primarily, cuts in welfare spending) by threatening to do something that they admit would have bad consequences. So far, Obama is refusing to come to the party.

If they block gun control, Republicans are just doing what (in some sense) they think is right. But if they block a debt ceiling increase, they will be doing harm even by their own lights.

Hence the popular metaphor of hostage-taking used by many commentators – Jon Chait is particularly fond of it. But that doesn’t quite capture it either (it could also now seem in poor taste in light of the bloodshed in Algeria).

A hostage-taker might prefer, other things being equal, not to have to shoot their hostages, but typically they are pretty much indifferent to the hostages’ welfare. That’s not the case here. The Republicans don’t want economic chaos; they’re willing to threaten it to get their way, but it’s a threat that they very much hope not to have to carry out.

If you’re looking for a metaphor, a better one would probably be nuclear deterrence. It’s one thing to threaten to push the button if the other side launches a conventional attack (indeed, that threat helped keep the peace in Europe for 40 years), but quite another thing to actually do it if the occasion ever arose.

That puts Obama in a much stronger position. When he argues that failure to pass gun reform will have harmful consequences, the Republicans can quite sincerely argue the contrary. But when he makes that argument about the debt ceiling, he’s saying something that most of them already agree with.

It also means that Obama’s position has improved since his re-election, as Nate Silver argued this week. Twelve months ago, economic chaos seemed a less scary prospect to the Republicans because it at least offered some prospect of hurting Obama for the upcoming election. Now they are the next ones to face the polls, so to some extent they have to own the economy.

That doesn’t mean the majority of Republicans are going to come around and vote for a debt ceiling increase. But they don’t have to; they just have to acquiesce in speaker John Boehner bringing it to a vote, where 20 or 30 moderate Republicans can vote with the Democrats to get it through. While it’s certainly not a done deal, that now looks more likely than not.

Gun reform could end up taking the same route, but it will be a much harder task.


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.

1 COMMENT

  1. I liked that graphic with the Automatic weapons and the chocolate egg, however from what I’ve seen in the press recently,I suspect that “Kinder surprise” is another name for automatic weapons in the USA.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Autocracy or democracy for Byron Shire?

The New Yorker Magazine recently wrote a quote from Mr Rupert Murdoch ‘The truth is authoritarian governments do work!’ Hold that thought. It has been...

Criminalising protest

In another Sstate government descent into criminalising protest, to protect their own government’s sabotage of a liveable planet, last Thursday new laws were passed...

Mullum pods

First, Hans Lovejoy’s article ‘emergency wedged’ was educational, factual and provided valuable information to the community. Michele Grant’s letter (27 July) was emotive overgeneralisations...

Flood residents get $650 from Lismore Council

Lismore City Mayor Steve Krieg today announced that 1,558 residents will receive a grant of $650 from the Lismore Flood Appeal.