FREE SPEECH ZONE | No tax refund check? Thank Rep. John Kline.

Do you have plans for your March Social Security check or your tax refund?

Better think about a Plan B. Come March, if Minnesota’s U. S. Rep. John Kline gets his way, those checks may not arrive.

Rep. Kline has joined forces with a radical band of Republican members of Congress, including Texas’ new Tea Party Sen. Ted Cruz, to halt the federal government from paying 40 per cent of what it is required to pay come March.

If you are one of those who sent Rep. Kline to Washington with the hope of cutting government spending, you may want to call him up and tell him that didn’t mean your March tax refund check. And if you are a senior, be very, very careful walking on icy sidewalks. Come March, Medicare may not be paying for operations.

Good morning, Minnesota. The frontline of the Tea Party war on government has just reached your doorstep.

Forty percent of the money the government would use to make its March payments comes from money it borrows. But the government no longer has the authority to borrow because Republicans in Congress refused to renew that routine authority before it expired Dec. 31. Beginning in late February, unless Congress reinstates the borrowing power at a higher limit, the government will be able to make only 60 percent of its payments each day. Your tax refund may be in the 60 percent stack that gets paid, or it may in that day’s unlucky “do not pay” pile instead.

Radical members of Congress such as Rep. Kline are holding your tax refund ransom in hopes they can get their way in a separate struggle on the best way to lower future deficits. Here is the ultimatum Rep. Kline delivered on WCCO-TV.

“We’ve been very, very clear that we’re not going to raise the debt ceiling unless we get some real spending cuts and entitlement reforms. . . We demand those spending cuts.”

Fellow hostage taker Sen. Cruz said preventing 40 percent of government payments would be a good thing. He said Republicans should strive for a government shutdown like the one Speaker Newt Gingrich engineered in the 1990s. “If we hold strong we can do that again,” Cruz said. “I don’t think what Washington needs is more compromise.”

In 2011, radical Republicans, pushed by Rep. Michelle Bachmann, similarly took the nation to the brink of stiffing the public on what it was owed. A deal was struck before the onset of non-payments, but the brinksmanship alone delivered a body blow to the nation’s economy. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the nation’s credit-rating, in part, because it witnessed a Congress no longer unequivocally committed to paying the nation’s obligations.

The downgrade triggered a stock market dive. Economic growth declined. Job growth stuttered with hundreds of thousands of fewer jobs gained in ensuing months as a result. The deficit increased because slower growth meant slower tax collections. The damaged credit rating triggered higher interest rates on government debt—at an additional cost of $19 billion over the upcoming 10-year period.

Rep. Kline evidently feels that was so much fun, why not do it again. Some Democrats are aghast: “Threatening default on our nation’s debt is an economic weapon of mass destruction that will have immediate and catastrophic consequences for the economy.”

The Business Roundtable has told Congress that since Congress is disinterested in protecting the fiscal integrity of the nation, it should adopt a law turning the authority over to the president. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke agrees. The Financial Services Roundtable has ordered a full-court press to end the hostage taking and push Congress to raise the debt ceiling swiftly and separately as the president seeks. (Yes, that means Tim Pawlenty, a cheerleader for hostage taking in 2011, is on the president’s side this time.)

A major concern would be defaulting on the nation’s debt. Hostage taker Sen. Pat Toomey says not to worry, the U.S. could make debt payments and forego other payments. You heard Toomey right. China gets paid. You don’t. Treasury and rating agencies laugh at this argument. A Congress that is willing to pay only 60 percent of the bills it rings up is one that has ruined “the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Radicals like Rep. Kline must feel their effort helps them politically. They may be correct within the base of the radical right. The fight is manufactured to provide a staged forum for Republicans to posture daily as earnest would-be spending-cutters (without ever saying just what would be cut, of course.) Americans may be persuaded when Sean Hannity praises hostage takers for trying to keep a lid on debt.

Hannity doesn’t mention that what Rep. Kline actually would do is keep a locked lid on the money needed for the likes of March tax refunds. Minnesotans who are worried may want to give Rep. Kline a call. Thank him for his concern over future deficits, but tell him your refund check is not available for ransom. Tell him to stop taking seniors as human shields in his fight with the president. Tell him to reverse himself and support a higher debt limit before bond raters lower the hammer again. America’s economy doesn’t need any more self-inflicted wounds. His job is to solve problems, not cause them.

Last week, SuperPac superpro Norm Colemen said he thought Rep. Kline would make a good candidate for U.S. Senate. You may want to call Coleman too. Tell him anyone who thinks that an econocidal maniac such as Rep. Kline belongs in the U.S. Senate almost certainly lacks the judgment to serve as governor of Minnesota.

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Wayne Cox's picture
Wayne Cox

Wayne Cox is executive director of Minnesota Citizens for Tax Justice, St. Paul.