Every time President Obama seems to falter in the polls, House Speaker John Boehner and his fractured Republicans offer to bail him out.
Boehner, R-Ohio, has announced his majority is planning a confrontation on the national debt limit this year. The move bids to shut down the government, weaken the country's shaken credit rating and drive up interest costs on that very debt.
Boehner knows a shallow pose like this helped re-elect Democrat Bill Clinton 16 years ago, but he had to say it because he has to feed the beasts in his party's extreme right.
The menagerie's leaders are Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. They're warriors who, like Col. Kilgore in "Apocalypse Now," "love the smell of napalm in the morning" because it smells "like victory." Like the helpless villagers of wartime Vietnam, the American people are caught between them, and irresponsible Democratic incumbents from Obama on down to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
Nothing can shame them, or frighten them into cooperating to reduce the deficit and control the nation's debt. On the fear front, they know that Greece is the canary in the coal mine on debt. Grecians launched a run on their banks last week because their government can't pay its bills.
Paper money is only trust. In this country, 40 cents of every dollar the government now spends, whether it's on Medicaid or foreign wars, is borrowed money, trust-me cash.
But it looks now as though the lead items in the presidential and congressional campaigns are going to be phony wedge issues, not our citizens' financial security.
Republicans and talk radio will bellow about the deficit and debt. Yet the Democrats don't bear exclusive responsibility for those, any more than Republicans are waging a "war on women." For the last two sessions of the House, controlling Republicans have approved all the appropriations that have driven this debt.
In addition, a month after the GOP retook the House in 2010, Paul Ryan and Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican who would chair Ways and Means, voted against the last best hope for a long-term solution to the debt -- the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. They worked seven months and developed long-term debt solutions, requiring sacrifices on all sides: Limits on defense spending, Social Security and food stamps, modest tax increases over time, and tax reform.
It needed a supermajority of 14 of the 18 members to influence the future flow of spending and taxing. All three of Boehner's commission appointees opposed the deal, in order to preserve the Bush tax cuts for the super rich. An Obama nominee, and two of Pelosi's, also opposed it, to keep entitlements enshrined.
After helping to create the commission, Obama coolly walked away from it, refusing to negotiate, or as Simpson said last week, triangulate with Republicans as Clinton would have to come up with a plan.
Democrats, who control the Senate, last week compounded this disgrace by voting down Obama's 2013 budget. It failed 99-0. This is the third straight year Reid has not produced a budget.
Yes, the House did pass the highly partisan Ryan budget, an austerity outline that keeps the Bush tax cuts, which was dead on arrival in the Senate.
At the same time, the House crushed a bipartisan resolution 382-38 embracing the principles of Bowles-Simpson. Among the opponents, sadly, were the three Democratic incumbent candidates from Western New York.