Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Make way for liberty!

Congratulations, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.): You just said the most ridiculous thing anyone in the House of Representatives has uttered about the debt ceiling in…at least a few days. Griffith, asked by the Capitol Hill daily The Hill about the urgency of raising the debt ceiling, suggested the nation might be better off if it defaulted—even if that triggered a new recession and perhaps a global economic crisis—than if it continued to spend money at the current rate. He's not the only Republican congressman to make this claim (Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) suggested a default would calm global markets). But Griffith's spin was, to put it charitably, unique:

We have to make a decision that's right long-term for the United States, and what may be distasteful, unpleasant and not appropriate in the short run may be something that has to be done. I will remind you that this group of renegades that decided that they wanted to break from the crown in 1776 did great damage to the economy of the colonies. They created the greatest nation and the best form of government, but they did damage to the economy in the short run.

This is an absolutely backward understanding of US history. Breaking away from Great Britain was indeed a hugely disruptive economic event—so much so that it almost proved to be the nation's undoing. States were swimming in debt and unable to pay soldiers, who in turn staged open rebellions, which, in turn, prompted politicians to get together to come up with a better governing document.

The central problem was that the nation had basically no access to credit, because it was $77 million in debt with no real means to pay it back. (It owed about $12 million of that to foreign creditors.) The solution, as outlined in Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's First Report on the Public Credit, was to absorb all state-level debts (totaling about $25 million), issue new bonds to fund the federal government and allow it to start borrowing money again, and then raise tariffs to pay off the debt.

Griffith's right that the revolution caused an economic mess, but he should've read the next chapter in his history book—America didn't get out of that economic mess until it had demonstrated to foreign creditors it was good on its word. Whether that's still the case is up to Griffith and his colleagues.

South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis (left) and Gen. James Longstreet.

South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis is a leading light of his state's Republican party, and a favorite among tea party conservatives who hope he reconsiders his decision not to mount a primary challenge to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). He also has some interesting thoughts about the Civil War.

A tipster passes along this photo, from Davis' Facebook page this week (it has since been taken down), featuring a man standing next to a barrier he had moved to the side of the road at Gettysburg National Battlefield Park, allowing vehicles to access the site of the 1863 battle. Davis' comment was brief: "If only Longstreet had employed this flanking maneuver."

Sen. Tom Davis/Facebook

Davis' comment refers to confederate General James Longstreet, one of Robert E. Lee's top generals at Gettysburg, who on the second day of the battle was slow to act on a directive to attack the Union's vulnerable left flank. The theory is that if Longstreet had employed the flanking maneuver, he could have rolled through the Union lines and scored a crushing victory that would have turned the tide of the war in favor of the dysfunctional breakaway republic united by a doctrine of white supremacy. If only!

Republicans in the House of Representatives have had a consistent strategy during the government shutdown: Go small. In a rare display of unity from a fractured caucus, GOPers have passed a series of small bills that would fund agencies like the National Park Service and National Institutes of Health, while continuing to oppose any larger continuing resolution to fund the federal government. The idea was simple: Give Democrats the choice of either splitting ranks, or casting votes against popular (and emotionally resonant) programs.

"I say to Harry Reid in the Senate, bring this up for a vote!" said Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) at a press conference touting the House's bill to fund NIH cancer clinics. "Don't take hope away from those families! Don't take hope away from those moms!"

But House Republicans have had company. Some two dozen Democrats have voted for all or most of the nine Republican continuing resolutions, joining their colleagues to support sequestration-level funding for the NIH, National Park Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, District of Columbia, National Guard, veterans benefits, nutrition assistance, Food and Drug Administration, and Head Start.

In some cases, the reasons for doing so seem straightforward. Fifteen of those Democrats crossover votes are included in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Frontline" list of the seats it will focus on defending in 2014, and eight serve in districts carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. (Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is the only Democrat from a red district to toe the party line completely on the continuing resolution votes.) That's the best explanation for the votes of Reps. Cheri Bustos (Ill.), Brad Schneider (Ill.), Joe Garcia (Fla.), Scott Peters (Calif.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Ami Bera (Calif.), Raul Ruiz (Calif.), Ron Barber (Ariz.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Sean Maloney (N.Y.), Pete Gallego (Texas), and John Barrow (Ga.).

And two Democratic congressmen—Reps. Bruce Braley of Iowa and Gary Peters of Michigan—represent otherwise blue districts but have entered competitive Senate races.

That leaves six Democrats—Reps. Jared Polis (Colo.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Bill Foster (Ill.), Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Dave Loebsack (Iowa), and John Garamendi (Calif.)—from relatively safe districts, all of which Obama carried by double digits in both 2008 and 2012, who crossed party lines to support Republicans' gimmick funding plan. So what gives?

Polis supports Democratic efforts for a clean continuing resolution, spokesman Brian Branton says, "[b]ut until that happens, he will work to make sure that our government is funded and our agencies reopen. Jared is proud to have supported a bipartisan bill that would reopen our National Parks so that the many jobs that revolve around tourism and Rocky Mountain National Park, in areas like Estes Park in Colorado, are safe." Megan Jacobs, Foster's spokeswoman, struck a similar note, emphasizing that while Foster opposed a piecemeal approach, "he believes if we have the opportunity to get some people back to work and services back on track, we should." Garamendi, who voted for six mini-funding bills, released a statement on Thursday calling on Boehner to knock it off: "This is embarrassing for our country and makes our international partners nervous."

If public opinion is any indication, though, things are looking up for the Democratic defectors. Public opinion polls have swung wildly against Republicans since the shutdown began. And on Thursday, there were signs of growing momentum for a bipartisan plan to restart the federal government, led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Maybe House Democrats really can have it all.

Wed Mar. 30, 2016 9:57 PM EDT
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