Will they shove us off a fiscal cliff? That’s what has become almost an eternal question as lawmakers prepare to once again descend on the Capitol following the August recess. Can the debt limit be raised by mid-October or will the government be shut down, depriving even Social Security recipients of the monthly check they depend upon?
The betting has to be in favor of avoiding the catastrophe, but not before lawmakers put Americans through the trauma of uncertainty almost up to the last minute, with a promise that any relief may bring something even more disastrous than the current budget sequestration.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has promised us a “whale of a fight” over the debt increase. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Barack Obama says he won’t negotiate with Boehner’s party on this issue. All this sets another record for dysfunction, which, while endemic in government, particularly our brand of democracy, has become the norm.
Boehner’s mantra is no debt increase without a corresponding cut in spending, and he says he means to stick by it, fair or not. Here is what he told the Idaho Statesman:
“The president doesn’t think this is fair, thinks I’m being difficult to deal with. But I’ll say this: It may be unfair, but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”
That’s certainly an encouraging prospect. It follows a warning from Jacob Lew, the Treasury secretary, that unless Congress raises the debt ceiling, the government will be left to fund operations with only the cash on hand on any given day and that a default would endanger the nation’s credit rating and severely set back economic recovery.
Is this brinkmanship a way of scaring the most gullible half to death? If so, it works.
This continued ulcerous behavior — from the White House to Capitol Hill — obviously demands strong decisive action in the next election. We should kick out of office every incumbent Democrat or Republican running for a new term — especially in the House, where intransigence has become a way of life.
Unfortunately, Republicans who understand that winning another election in the foreseeable future may depend on the party’s ability not to be seen as totally obstructionist seem to be in the minority of their own party. Their caucus’ power lies in the hands of those who regard the current president of the United States as an acolyte of the devil; they’re determined to thwart nearly any constructive effort to solve our problems, from education to immigration.
For his part, Obama spends little or no time trying to take care of business in Washington. He prefers traveling the nation, stopping to throw out new ideas. He appears always in campaign mode. Where’s the follow through, the down-and-dirty negotiating with the enemy? The bully pulpit is good, but it must be accompanied by presidential sweat and muscle. No one understood that more than Lyndon B. Johnson.
With the prospect of at least limited U. S. involvement in retaliation for the use of nerve gas by Syria’s ruling regime, the last thing Americans need is another “whale of a fight” on the domestic front. Both sides should work things out sooner than a few hours ahead of disaster.
It’s not likely to happen.
“I wish I could tell you it was going to be pretty and polite and it would all be finished a month before we’d ever get to the debt ceiling,” Boehner was quoted as saying. “Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way.”
Where’s the antacid?
Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.