There is a metaphor in common usage that describes a situation as being like painting yourself into a corner. It refers, obviously, to someone who is painting a floor and discovers that their only route of escape is by walking across the floor just painted, presumably leaving tracks in the still-wet paint. It is, more or less, the perfect description of a self-inflicted error.
In these days of continuous media attention and unlimited access to the internet, such a situation is the worst possible thing for a politician, for whatever error they make will quickly be shared with everyone, inviting bloggers and people far away to feast upon the miss-spoken words. However, this orgy of the carrion-eaters is not always the result of a casual slip of the tongue. Sometimes it is premeditation self destruction that can easily be anticipated.
As politicians seek to rally their supporters (the base) they often make statements calculated to show that they will champion the most extreme positions, simply because it will result in contributions, votes, and subsequent (re-)election. Such is the case with Republicans who, seeking to curry favor with the so-called Tea Party, have promised they will never agree to any deficit reduction package that includes raising taxes. They have painted themselves into a corner. The ultimate corner!
The truth is that the current debate about raising the debt ceiling has nothing to do with cutting spending or raising taxes. The ceiling needs to be raised because of actions Congress has already taken! These are bills coming due for spending Congress has already authorized, and many of those who decry the situation gladly voted Aye when that money was allocated.
During the years of the Bush presidency, when the famous tax cuts were enacted by a Congress ruled by Republicans, spending did not have corresponding cuts. President Clinton left a budget in balance and surpluses which would begin to retire the existing debt. Those who cry now for a Balanced Budget requirement couldn't be bothered back then, just ten years ago. No problem!
In short, this is like giving your child a credit card, allowing them to run amok, and then complaining when the statement arrives in the mail. You did this to yourself (and us) and if you don't like it, you should have considered that sometime earlier!
Now, up in the title I mentioned marriage, and here's how that fits into this discussion.
If you're married, or have been married, or are just in a relationship of some sort, you've probably discovered that you don't get anywhere when you demand that something about which you disagree can only be solved your way. If, for example, you declare that you will not allow your partner to...whatever, most likely you'll find yourself sleeping on the couch. The more you demand it, the more that couch will become your new home. In fact, you can successfully demand my way or the highway until you find yourself driving down that road. Alone! Hauling a trailer with your half of things.
Successful relationships involve compromise, so you agree to go to that movie with her if you get to choose the restaurant. She agrees to let you have a night out with the boys if she can spend some money on new towels, or maybe a pedicure. It's about sharing, compromise, and understanding. Otherwise, it's about painting yourself in the corner...with paint that never, ever dries!
Earlier today, and I'm paraphrasing here, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, related that the Democrats needed to bring something to discuss other than tax increases, because we're not going to discuss those. Beyond the philosophical position regarding taxes, the fact is they can't discuss them, because they, collectively and individually, promised their base that they won't raise taxes, and they still remember what happened to the first President Bush when he made that promise and then ultimately recognized he couldn't stand on that position. So, they've painted themselves in the corner.
The statement is no different than had the Democrats arrived at the meeting saying "We'll talk about anything as long as it doesn't involve cutting spending." Of course, that isn't what the Democrats said, nor is it a position they've taken.
Ultimately, we all know that spending needs to be cut, and substantially. We probably agree on some places it could be cut and likely disagree about others. With the exception of a few of us, we probably also believe that closing tax loopholes and stopping all those exemptions that only benefit the rich should go away too. Unfortunately, not many of our representatives seem to understand that. They're too busy making grand announcements that they will never...well, you know the drill.
If the debt ceiling problem is ignored, the paint on the floor will be the least of the problems. If, because of Republican intransigence, the debt of the United States is no longer viable, interest rates will rise, and everything the country wants to do will cost more. The dollar will no longer be the trusted currency of the world, and the economic meltdown will make the last couple of years look like a nice day at the beach.
Yes, we need to reign in spending. Yes, we need to seriously reform taxes. Yes, we need to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Yes, Congress needs to demonstrate some sadly-absent self control. But tying those things to the debt ceiling won't work. However, those running against incumbents will love it. They'll wave as the members of Congress drive down that highway, pulling a trailer with the stuff that used to be in their office.