“Congress continues running in circles as debt threat intensifies,” the headline over the news story in the Thursday morning newspaper read, pretty much nailing the situation in Washington as Congress and the Obama administration endlessly debate cutting federal spending and increasing the national debt ceiling.
The headline sparked images of the family dog chasing its tail in ever-widening circles about the living room, bumping into furniture and knocking over the potted plants before the homeowner can restore order.
“With stocks tanking and next Tuesday’s deadline looming for the United States, no sign of compromise between Democrats and Republicans emerged Wednesday in Congress,” the lead paragraph of the McClatchy Newspapers wire story read.
Without signed legislation in place by Tuesday, the Treasury will be unable to pay all its bills, the experts say, possibly triggering an unprecedented default that could badly harm a national economy struggling to recover from the worst recession in decades. Speculation has been rampant as to which party would be blamed should default occur. Polls show that voters have grown weary of the antics of both sides in the debate.
Politicians maneuvering for political gain in the debt crisis may not yet have tired of running in circles while characteristically putting off a decision in the matter until the eleventh hour. But it’s a pretty safe bet that large segments of the American public long ago tuned out what President Barack Obama described as a “ partisan three-ring circus,” on the grounds that there are more exciting ways to waste time.
Anyone who can watch the news and opinion shows night after night to hear the same old arguments perpetuating the same old partisan stalemate — and do so without an urge to hurl the nearest available object at his widescreen television — is a rare bird who might want to consider getting his dangerously high Tolerance Index cranked back a couple of notches.
The 18th century British statesman and orator Edmund Burke suggested that “all government — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act — is founded on compromise and barter.” As well, various American patriots from the founding fathers on down have counseled that no democratic government can last long without conciliation and compromise.
If the old philosophers were around today to enlighten those rigid lawmakers of both parties who seemingly consider “compromise” a naughty word and an outdated concept, they’d probably advise the noncompromisers to do the divided-government math. With Republicans controlling one branch of Congress and Democrats the other branch and the presidency, not to compromise, barter and conciliate is to court the very stalemate that has stymied Congress and the Obama administration for months now on this debt ceiling business while turning off the electorate.
At week’s end, intense bartering was reportedly taking place behind the scenes as lawmakers attempted to resolve a dilemma that involves competing legislation — a Republican-backed plan in the House of Representatives, which Democrats have promised would be dead on arrival should it make it to the Democrat-controlled Senate, and a Senate Democratic proposal that conventional wisdom says cannot win approval in the Republican-dominated House if it gets to that body. (See running in circles, above).
In the end, gridlock will presumably set the stage for Plan C, a last-minute compromise containing elements of both proposals, which would be forged after holdouts on both sides come to realize that their longed-for ideal result simply cannot be achieved — that each side must give something in order to get something. If past performances are an indication, bipartisan legislation would then be swiftly enacted and sent to the president for his signature.
With that, partisan spin masters for both parties will take over, claiming victory and hoping to convince a skeptical public that the display of brinksmanship we have watched unfold over the past several months has been good for what ails us.
It will be a tough sell. But one that a sizable portion of the electorate might buy if the Great Compromise were to include, as an earmark for the people, a law banning forever more the use by politicians of the cringe-inducing “kick-the-can-down-the-road” cliche that got so overworked during the debate. That would be one giant leap for mankind, right there.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.