“It’s taken us seven months to get to the place where we are now,” Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “We’re almost out of runway. We’re not nowhere, but we’re almost out of runway.”

Perhaps a better analogy would would be “we’re at 50,000 feet and almost out of fuel. The tanker plane has connected and is ready to refuel, but there’s a fight going on in the tanker cockpit(*) about whether or not to turn on the fuel valve.”

There’s a time to argue about the big issues, and there is a time to just do what you have committed to do.  The Tea Party teenagers in the House don’t seem to understand that.  There are any number of analogies:

  • Simplest: You sit down to pay your bills.  There’s a big payment due on your credit card.  You say, “hell, I didn’t really want all this stuff. I’m not paying.”
  • Your boss is signing the paychecks.  He looks at yours and says, “he’s getting too much money.  I’m not signing this unless he agrees to a 30% pay cut effective immediately.”
  • Your house catches fire.  The fire chief says, “We need a new ladder truck.  We’re not coming to your house until the town agrees to buy it.”

Get the picture?  When you’ve committed to do something, you do it.  If you don’t like the deal, pick a different time to fight about it.

Raising the debt ceiling is exactly this.  The debt ceiling needs to be raised entirely because of the decisions of the Congress of the United States – what to spend money on, how much and who to tax, etc.  For this Congress to refuse to do it is exactly like you refusing to pay your credit card bill.  Maybe they don’t understand that they don’t own the office they hold, they only borrow it. They need to accept the obligations from previous legislative acts, just as they expect future legislatures to accept theirs.

It doesn’t matter what you believe about the deficit, what should be cut, who should be taxed, and so on.  Signing the check is not the time to solve all that.  To do what the Tea Party radicals are doing is simply to hold the entire country hostage and demand as ransom that they get their way.  The public needs to notice and remember this.  Taking hostages is against the law in every personal case I know of.  Extortion is against the law.  Increasing the debt ceiling is something that the Congress must do as a matter of procedure and law unless there is a technical flaw in the bill that does it. That’s the only reason for the requirement.  It is not there as a chance to change your mind.

If the Tea Partiers don’t understand that, then they don’t understand the law and are not qualified to sit in the body that is charged with making the laws for the country.

If the Tea Partiers don’t understand that a US Government default will be a catastrophe at many levels including the stability that business leaders have been saying for the last two years that they need to start investing in jobs and growth again, then the Tea Partiers are not only clueless about the law, they are also clueless about business and jobs.  In fact, they are clueless about everything except their own extremist dogma which, every day, is being revealed as out of touch with American values and any practical reality.

* – I must credit this image to Bob Dylan, although I do not for a moment suggest that Bob or his song take any side whatever in this discussion. Still, is there any clearer pictures of right now than this, written in the early 1960s, from “Desolation Row”:

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn.
Everybody is shouting, ‘which side are you on?’
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot are fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much about Desolation Row.