fresh voices from the front lines of change







Here are three words or phrases currently being used widely that back up Republican anti-government propaganda. And here are some ideas about what you might want to say instead.


I keep reading that Congress is suffering from “gridlock.” But if they were suffering from gridlock, wouldn’t that mean they are working on too many things at once?

Gridlock is a traffic jam. Gridlock occurs when there are so many cars that they back up across intersections and block other cars from crossing. Congress would be "gridlocked" if they were working on so many things at once that they were backing up and getting in each others' way.

To anyone who follows what has been going on in DC, the idea that this Republican Congress is working on too many things at once is ludicrous. (Unless you count voting against Obamacare over and over again as "getting a lot done.")

Using the word "gridlock" to describe what is happening is not just incorrect, it also tends to convey an impression that our Congress -- and by extension representative democracy -- is not designed to function in our interest. This advances a key Republican argument that government is meddlesome burdensome, "in the way," inefficient, weak and an all-around bad way to decide how to do things. Republicans want us to lose faith in government, and saying that government is in "gridlock" just helps make their case.

What is happening in Washington is not "gridlock." What is going on is that Republicans in the House and Senate are obstructing the House and Senate from getting things done. They are blocking things from happening. They are keeping the country from implementing the will of the people.

Don't call it gridlock, call it obstruction. Because that is what it is.

The Senate Failed To Pass The Bill / Confirm The Nominee

Over the last several years the media has reported again and again that the Senate has "failed" or "didn't get enough votes" to pass a bill or confirm a nominee. They say "Senate rules" require 60 votes "to pass a bill." But this is not what is happening. What is going on in the Senate is that bill after bill and nominee after nominee are being filibustered.

"Failed to pass" implies that the Senate -- and by extension the people -- didn't want something to pass or a nominee confirmed. It also conveys that government fails. But a filibuster is something completely different. A filibuster occurs when the majority of the Senate does want something. A filibuster is obstruction of democracy.

Don’t say that the Senate failed to pass a bill or confirm a nominee when the vote was 59 in favor and 41 opposed. Instead let people hear the truth, that the bill or nominee was filibustered. A filibuster occurs when a minority of the Senate uses a once-obscure rule to block -- obstruct -- a bill or nominee that has majority support from passing or being confirmed.

When something doesn't make it past the Senate because of a filibuster call it a filibuster, which is obstruction.

The Debt-Ceiling Means The Government Has Maxed Out Its Credit Card

Very soon Washington will be absorbed in a fight over raising the "debt-ceiling." Again and again the public is told that the debt-ceiling fight is about the government “maxing out its credit card.” But this is not at all what the debt-ceiling fight is about. It is about Congress authorizing the President to pay the amount due on the credit card that the Congress has been using. This is a very, very important distinction. The accurate way to explain what this fight is about is to say that raising the debt-ceiling authorizes the President to pay the bills that the Congress has already run up.

The debt-ceiling is a limit, or ceiling, on how debt much the government is allowed to carry. A version of this limit was first put in place by Congress in 1917 as part of a bond act to help pay for World War I, and then an overall debt limit in 1939.

After the "Reagan tax cuts" which primarily went to the wealthy the country began to run enormous yearly deficits, which add to the country's debt. (Clinton passed tax increases and we started paying off that debt, but then Bush II again passed tax cuts for the wealthy, and left office with a final-year deficit of $1.4 trillion!)

The Republican Congress refuses to restore the tax rates the wealthy used to pay before we had these large deficits. But the fact is that it costs money to run a large country, and every year the Congress authorizes spending that is greater than the tax revenue collected. So more money has to go out than is coming in. Because of this the country periodically reaches a new debt limit. Congress then fights over increasing this limit.

This does not mean that the government is "spending too much." There are things a government must do, and there are many places where cuts wold actually force increases in spending on other items. (For example, cutting food for the elderly increases spending on hospital care and nursing homes.) (For example cutting spending on infrastructure means fewer people are employed, and eans that over time the economy becomes less efficient and less competitive, all of which slow tax revenue and force increases in social-program spending. But cutting social-program spending forces increases on crime-fighting and prison spending and other things...)

And in any event, in a democracy all government spending by definition is We the People doing things to make our lives better.

Saying the government has "maxed out its credit card" wrongly reinforces the Republican message that somehow President Obama has been irresponsible and has engaged in "runaway spending" and Congress has to reign this in.

Saying Congress refusing to let the President pay their own credit card bill accurately presents the debt-ceiling fight as Congress refusing to authorize payment for the things that Congress already bought.

Finally, saying the government has "maxed out its credit card" causes people to lose faith in democratic government. It implies that democracy is a bunch of teenagers who don't understand how to control their impulses. Which is exactly what Republicans want us to believe. Don't help them.

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