Sep 20, 2013 - Steve Peck, PublisherCongress continues to act in ways that lower public expectations
Perhaps it ought to shock or anger us to learn that the United States Congress once again is plunging the nation into a round of budget brinksmanship that threatens the services of the federal government, to say nothing of the economic reputation and stability of the nation.
But it is something else now. Shock no longer really applies. We have come to expect so little of Congress that this almost seems routine.
Anger? Maybe for some. Maybe a little. Certainly nobody is happy about the constant climate of crisis at the Capitol.
But a better word might be exhaustion, a mental weariness at being confronted with the same situation again, and with little optimism of a better outcome.
The United States has a huge debt. That is not a good thing. It has been accumulated over the course of many years, not so different from a business or household which always sees better times around the corner and can always find a lender willing to roll over a loan to refinance, to extend terms.
The debt is so large that it becomes a challenge even to make the interest payments. To do so, Congress must pass legislation permitting the United States to increase its statutory borrowing ceiling. More simply, it means that it's against the law to owe so much money, so the law needs to be changed from time to time. If the law isn't changed, the United States could default on its loans.
For the supposedly greatest nation in the world, that simply is not a viable option. Even the threat of it a couple of years ago led a global credit rating agency to lower Americans once solid-gold credit rating to the same position as a mid-level developed nation in Europe or Asia.
Again just last year, the government shutdown/loan default threat was tossed around again by Congress. First, Democrats and Republicans agreed to put off doing anything about it until after the general election last year. Then, with the election coming gone, they still decided to do nothing of substance, opting instead to "kick the can down the road" (to use a term it has now become a tiresome cliché).
And so, here we are again. Lawmakers on one side say they will refuse to support another extension of the debt ceiling unless lawmakers on the other side agree to certain policy demands.
As has been pointed out time and time again, yet still ignored, apparently, is the simple truth that extending the debt ceiling is not "continuing to spend money that we don't have," as the accusation goes. It is nothing more than doing what is required to fulfill the financial obligations - the promises - tied to repayment of the federal debt based on spending decisions made by Congress long before now.
Refusing to pay the interest, shutting down the federal government, defaulting on our loans, and degrading the financial reputation of our country still further would do absolutely nothing on Oct. 1 to improve that situation or rein in federal spending.
It took years for us to get ourselves into this fix, and it will take about as long to get ourselves out of it. Nothing done next week will change that. What Congress ought to be doing in the meantime is working to establish a long-term debt and deficit reduction plan that will gradually but steadily improve our fiscal shortfalls while still maintaining the central government services, our position of leadership around the world, and our ability to fulfill our financial obligations to our lenders.
Several proposals to that effect have been made. Former Wyoming U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson is the author of the most famous one.
Everyone knows this, that is, all the people fighting in Congress is trying to make temporary political gains or inflict temporary political damage know that this is the only way out of the problem. Yet, again and again, they ignore the obvious.
So absurd has this exercise in futility become that the American public has almost no positive expectations of Congress anymore. And why would we?
Shock? No. Anger? Not really. Not anymore. Exhaustion? Definitely.
Come to think of curiosity actually could be the best word to describe our reaction to this horse -- curiosity in the form of a question: "Is this really the best we can do?"