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Brian Keane

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The Debt Ceiling Talks Remind Me of High School

Posted: 07/25/11 06:41 PM ET

It's hard to keep ahead of the he-said, she-said nature of the debt ceiling talks that transpired over the weekend. But one thing is clear: on Friday, House Speaker John Boehner once again walked away from the negotiating table.

All I could think when I heard the news was, "When the going gets tough, the Republicans quit!" Between Rep. Eric Cantor and Speaker Boehner, it seems clear that these guys don't have the guts to fix the problems they created. When the going gets tough, the real tough guys get going.

Twenty years ago I worked for two U.S. senators, one Democrat, Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), and one Republican, Warren Rudman (R-N.H.). They had joined forces to create an organization called the Concord Coalition, designed to eliminate the federal budget deficit. If you recall, in 1992 the overwhelming economic concern was our deficit spending. Our work at Concord, along with the leadership of President Clinton and a number of courageous Democrats in the House of Representatives, helped eliminate the federal budget deficit.

Indeed, it was President Clinton's 1993 budget deal that created the glide path to a zero deficit. That's right: in 1993, without a single Republican vote, we took our economy from "deficits as far as the eyes can see" to a surplus that resulted in one of the longest economic booms in our country's history.

Then, with the election of George W. Bush, the Republicans bloated the budget and cut taxes. From two wars that the Republicans put "off book," to irresponsible tax cuts, to the "bridge to nowhere," to the creation of the largest and most intrusive government agency in U.S. history (the Department of Homeland Security), the Republicans went crazy with their voracious appetite for spending. They spent us into this economic catastrophe.

Now they have, as we say, "found religion," and decided that all this spending was bad. But instead of fixing the problems, they just keep on quitting.

Two things are very clear as a result of this weekend's breakdown: 1) a lot of people are going to be hurt due to the Republican's negotiation "strategy," and 2) not a lot has changed in governing since Student Council.

In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives today looks strikingly like a high school or college student government. And no offense to hardworking student leaders, but that's not meant to be a compliment. What we're seeing from Speaker Boehner and his Republican colleagues isn't governance. It's petty vindictiveness, based on hurt feelings. Instead of working with the White House and finding common ground, the Republicans are focused on exploiting their differences, and in the process, they have the power to destroy this nation.

If Boehner were serious about governing, we'd have a deal. We'd have captured this moment in time to do something "big" -- something that could literally change the course of our nation for the better. Now, they are trying to blame the president. That's bad enough. But worse, they are refusing to stand up and fix it.

Govern, lead and fix what's broken. Save your pettiness for your yearbooks.

Brian Keane is the President of SmartPower, a non-profit marketing organization funded by private foundations to help build the clean energy marketplace by helping the American public become smarter about their energy use.

 
 
 

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