Debt Limit Follies are over (for now)

Written by on August 3, 2011 in Baltimore Voices, Featured - No comments

President Barack Obama, after months of talks, press conferences, meetings, all-nighters and locked-door late-night skull sessions, has finally managed to get Congress to agree to raising the debt limit.

The plan calls for $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next ten years, with another $1.5 trillion recommended, in exchange for a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt limit right now, which will keep the government chugging along through the 2012 election.

Essentially the deal is the same one proposed last winter—actually a little more liberal than the one the President proposed then.

Neither side is particularly happy with the compromise. Conservatives want a balanced budget amendment and liberals want additional revenue.

The way the Maryland House delegation voted is interesting: Democrats Hoyer, Van Hollen, Ruppersberger and Bartlett, the conservative Howard County Republican, voted yea. Edwards, Cummings, Sarbanes and Harris—the ultraconservative Cockeysville and Eastern Shore Republican, voted no.

It may be the last time you see John Sarbanes and Andy Harris on the same side of an issue. Clip and save.

All sides—Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party, everyone—are declaring victory. The White House says it is a “victory for bipartisan compromise, for the economy and for the American people.”

Well, maybe.

The win part is that the United States does not default on its massive debt, an event that would result in the loss of the nation’s AAA debt rating and cost it much more to borrow the cash it needs to keep running.

Just the threat of default sent markets down and the price of gold up. This is not good for the national economy.

However, Congress made itself an international joke during this “process.” The Speaker of the House could not get the House to act, and could not get his own party to go along with several deals he favored.

Last week the House of Representatives dropped the debt deal and debated the naming of local post office branches. This was while the President of the United States pleaded for attention to the issue and the markets—stock and commodities—began to fall.

More often than not, Congress looked like a preschool for wayward toddlers than a distinguished group of the nation’s best and brightest. And the Leader of the Free World looked like an overwhelmed playground supervisor who had lost his whistle.

Last week the Onion, the satirical newspaper and website, joked that an emergency crew of eighth-grade civics teachers had been air-dropped into Washington to teach Congress what to do.

One of the fictional civics teachers said that Congress was slow to grasp the concept of checks-and-balances. “Hopefully it will start to sink in soon,” said the imaginary educator.

Sometimes satire tells more truth than a newspaper story.

Mostly, it seemed that Congress and the White House were playing liar’s poker with the national economy, saying on the one hand that default would be a catastrophe of unimaginable dimension while refusing to do anything to ward off the catastrophe.

Jockeying for political advantage outweighed attempting to do any actual public good. The spectacle was disgusting.

The citizens are not happy. Their approval of Congress has dropped to an all-time low—just six percent of likely voters rate its performance as “good” or “excellent,” according to Rasmussen Reports.

(If you add up the number of members of Congress, Congressional staff and their immediate families, does that add up to six percent of likely voters?)

The 2012 election is going to be quite interesting.

by Jacqueline Watts

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