By Joe Conason
America’s great minds of business and finance have reached a consensus on the government shutdown and worse, the prospect of a debt default: While the latter is worse, both are bad. Those same great minds are well aware how the shutdown came to pass and why default still looms on the horizon, whether next week, next month, or next year.
Yes, the frightened corporate leaders surely know how this happened—because their money funded the tea party candidates and organizations responsible for the crisis.
Consider Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., a tea party freshman whose outspoken stupidity on a default’s potential benefits, such as an improved U.S. credit rating, has provided a bit of dark humor in these dark days. Yoho, a large-animal veterinarian, announced months ago that he would never vote to raise the debt ceiling.
Like most Republican candidates, he had no problem raising contributions from business interests, notably including contractors, insurance companies, manufacturers and agricultural processors. All of which presumably share the horror of default expressed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But no doubt Yoho parroted the usual right-wing cliches about taxes, regulation, labor, and health care, so all the business guys wrote a check without caring that Yoho is an ignorant yobbo.
Or consider Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., who came to embody the idiocy of the shutdown when he declared “we’re not going to be disrespected” by the White House but couldn’t articulate precisely what Republicans needed in order to reopen the government and avoid default. Another low-wattage tea party newcomer, Stutzman likewise raised plenty of money from commercial banks, real estate firms, insurance companies and various manufacturers. Why do these executives write checks to elect someone like him?
Then there are the tea party leaders in the upper chamber, including such adornments of democracy as Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and of course Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Johnson says there needn’t be a debt default, no matter what Congress does, while Cruz, the “Defund Obamacare” mastermind, is more culpable than any other single legislator for the paralysis gripping Washington and the country. Johnson’s top donors include an investment firm called Fiduciary Management Inc., ironically enough, as well as Northwestern Mutual, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Mass Mutual Life Insurance, and naturally, Koch Industries (which now claims, disingenuously, that it doesn’t favor the Cruz shutdown strategy or a debt default).
As for Cruz, guess who paid for his campaign? Very close to the top of the list of donors for the despised Texan is none other than Goldman Sachs—whose chairman Lloyd Blankfein showed up at the White House a few days ago to bemoan the catastrophic threat of default. Not only did Blankfein and his fellow bankers warn of what might happen if America breaches its full faith and credit, but he even hinted that the fault lies with Republican hostage takers. Which is only partially right, because Blankfein and his fellow financiers need to look in the mirror, too. Cruz also got a big check from Berkshire Hathaway, corporate home of the venerated Wall Street sage Warren Buffett, who just compared the impact of default to “a nuclear bomb.” If that nuke wipes out the markets, Berkshire’s investment in Cruz will have lit the fuse.
If any of these business leaders honestly cared about fiscal responsibility and economic growth—let alone the constant threat of shutdowns and defaults—they could step up to warn the Republicans that the money won’t be there anymore unless they cease and desist from such assaults on democracy. They have more than enough money and power to end this crisis—and make sure it never happens again—but they seem to lack the necessary character and courage.
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