Republicans and Democrats are on a collision course over raising the nation's debt ceiling. Failure to do so will have dire consequences on all Americans and the global economy. Regretfully, it is politics as usual in Washington.
Most experts agree that failure to raise the debt ceiling will cause the United States to default. The consequences of a default will be catastrophic on the already frail American economy. Government payrolls and entitlement programs will not be funded. Interest rates on loans will increase. More people will be thrown out of work. And such a failure will send a tsunami through world economic markets, which are already teetering because of Greece, Italy and Ireland. The global standing of America will be rocked and confidence in the U.S. economy will be severely shaken across the world.
Up to now raising the debt ceiling has been more or less a routine matter. Most Republicans did not blink when it came to casting their annual approval during the deficit-riddled administration of President George W. Bush. President Bush ran up huge deficits due in large part to his unfunded tax cuts and two wars. What has changed?
Republicans have seized on the debt ceiling crisis to gain deep cuts in the U.S. budget, perhaps following the axiom, "Never let a crisis go to waste." They see an opportunity to scale back future government spending in order, they say, to achieve long-term financial stability and grow more jobs. But so far recent government cuts on the national and state level have resulted in thousands of layoffs as well as reductions in education and critical services.
While President Barack Obama and most Democrats agree that some cuts are in order they have argued for a "balanced" approach. That means addressing the problem by raising some revenues, for instance by closing corporate loopholes and increasing taxes on the wealthiest individuals. Not to do so will put the burden on those least able to afford it. And, according to a recent poll, a large majority of Americans agree with this approach. However, Republicans firmly proclaim that raising any taxes will kill jobs. Never mind that there is no historical evidence to back their claim up.
So the two sides have dug in. Negotiations have reached a boiling point. Republican Speaker John Boehner is struggling to keep his caucus in line, with many of its members willing to let the nation go into default. Most of them say that the impact of a default will not be too severe a price to pay if it results in deep spending cuts. Many have signed a no new taxes pledge. Republican Majority leader Eric Cantor is leading the hardliners, and may be positioning himself for the Speakership.
Meanwhile, negotiations continue at the White House to end the impasse. Accounts of these meetings vary depending on the party spinning the story. Did Rep. Cantor interrupt the president several times? Did a frustrated president abruptly walk out of the meeting? Who cares? Republicans say the debt is President Obama's problem. Democrats say it is the Republicans who are putting the country at peril.
It is time for all parties grow up. It is time for them to act in the best interest of the nation. It is time for our elected officials to cast partisan politics and petty rivalries aside and to put America first. Either pass a clean debt ceiling bill or compromise on managing future deficits with a mixture of budget cuts and some revenue enhancements. And then let the voters decide in 2012 which side it supports.
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