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The rise of Tom Cotton

Posted: January 16, 2013 at 3:45 a.m.

The political insiders’ favorite national website, politico.com, lavished recent attention on the new resume-rich Republican extremist from Arkansas, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton.

He intrigues the media in that he is a Harvard-educated lawyer who volunteered after 9/11 to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then he wrote an open letter from Baghdad in 2006 that military neo-conservatives adored. What they liked was that Cotton called for the New York Times to be prosecuted for reporting intelligence-gathering secrets.

Cotton’s fame on the right thus was established.

Then the rapid Republicanization of Arkansas, stemming from irrational hatred of Barack Obama, opened the 4th District congressional seat to his well-funded romp over inept Democratic opposition last year.

The Politico report offered two points of interest.

The first was that, in his congressional campaign, Cotton opened a piece of mail one day to find bundled campaign contributions from members of the Club for Growth.

Over time he’d reap $300,000 from this national organization of extreme economic conservatives that embraces pro-corporate interests and anti-government themes.

The Club for Growth detested even Mike Huckabee for being such a supposed liberal when he was governor of Arkansas—trying to help the roads and schools and poor kids with health insurance, for example.

The second was that, in service to the ideology of the Club for Growth, Cotton told Politico that he would never vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling without big budget cuts.

Here’s the quote to remember: He said he was “more concerned about the ‘cataclysmic’ consequences of inaction than the ‘short-term market corrections’ of default” on the nation’s debt.

All right, then. Let us examine the “short-term market corrections” of the nation defaulting on its debt.

If the debt ceiling is not raised, probably by Valentine’s Day, then the federal government would not be able to borrow any more money to fund its operations. That would be problematic because the government takes in about $9 billion a day and spends about $15 billion a day.

So, on or about February 15, we’d need to take, oh, nearly 40 percent out of the federal outlay.

I suppose the government could discontinue your Social Security check. Maybe it could cut it by 40 percent. I suppose it could stop covering your doctor and hospital bills on Medicare, or merely invite you to pay a new 40 percent deductible and co-payment.

I suppose it could stop veterans’ benefits. It could shut down the war.

It could say it would need to hold your tax refund for a while just to get itself over the hump.

All of that would cause the nation’s credit rating to be downgraded again and send shockwaves through the global economy that would send your dividends and 401Ks plummeting.

There is Cotton’s short-term market correction right there.

The Politico piece seems to be making the case—this is my interpretation more than the news service’s explicit assertion—that Cotton represents what’s wrong with American politics.

He is not substandard by any means in terms of intellect and merit. But he happens to possess an intransigent anti-government ideology, except for the matter of war, that gets reinforced by a packet of big money from like-minded donors.

Thus—by nature and by his being beholden—he treats his rookie legislating as practically a matter of evangelical or apocalyptic theology, not of compromise to achieve incremental gain and keep government working for his constituents while we address spending separately and more responsibly.

One more time, with meaning: You do not cut your household budget by refusing to pay the balance on your charge card. You have incurred that expense. Your options are to pay it and set about never getting that far in debt in the future. It is the same—it is precisely the same—with the federal debt limit.


There is someone else I blame. That is President Obama.

He is right that we will not negotiate again on the debt ceiling, because not being a “deadbeat” country is not negotiable.

But otherwise he could show leadership and initiate conversations for significant spending reductions in connection with another looming cliff. That would be the deferral of sequestration, meaning automatic spending cuts, on or about March 1.

He should be saying that the debt ceiling must be raised, but that he understands and accepts that we must reduce spending and lower the deficit. He should be saying that he and Joe Biden are calling urgent meetings to negotiate sequestration, not the debt ceiling, and will put some big cut on the table as a first offer and show of good faith.

I’m tired of these guys playing chicken. I’m tired of Obama, Cotton and all in between behaving subserviently to their rigid ideologies and political bases rather than responsibly for their government and their constituents—for their country.

I have no interest in the Club for Growth or whatever left-wing outfit will belly-ache if Obama concedes on spending.

John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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