Hope for our “contentious and fitful process”
Did anything good come out of last week’s resolution of the debt limit crisis?
But it was hard to find it in those first few days after the last-minute legislation passed, promising reductions in spending and raising the country’s debt limit so it could pay its bills.
But nobody was happy with the deal. The stock market fell. Standard & Poor’s lowered the nation’s credit rating. Even those of us who do not understand such ratings were forced to accept and understand, for the first time in our lives, that the U.S.’s financial reputation is something other than top-rate.
Even more than the loss of financial prestige, we suffered a malaise that came from a conclusion that the political processes of the American democracy had collapsed into ineffectiveness. Not only was there a temporary mess, but also there was every expectation that it would continue. Most discouraging was the lack of any indication that the American people would rise up and demand something different.
In explaining the decision to downgrade the U.S. debt, Standard & Poor’s said that it was based largely on its conclusion that the political process was inadequate to deal with the financial challenges.
Here is how they explained it: “We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.”
Of course, disagreement, disappointment, unfulfilled dreams have always been a part of what American politics is all about. It is not disagreement that is the source of our malaise or the reason for Standard & Poor’s action.
The reaction to losing in politics is to remember that there is always tomorrow and those who care should keep working, keep preaching, and stay in the game.
What cannot work well in a system that requires compromise and respect for the views of others are the tactics of a political suicide bomber who says, “Do it my way or we will all go over the cliff. Your way is evil, so I will blow up everything and we will both lose unless you give in to what is right as I know it to be.”
So, back to my question, did anything good come out of the debt limit crisis?
There was a ray of hope.
It came in the form of a debate on the floor of the Senate between Senators Dick Durbin and John McCain. It was civil, cheerful, and respectful, although Democrat Durbin and Republican McCain were in sharp disagreement.
Their exchange lasted about 15 minutes with Durbin asserting that the nation’s high unemployment and repressed consumer demand called for increased government spending and McCain arguing that the recent stimulus efforts had been costly and ineffective.
For those like me who are discouraged, listening to these two senators can give hope that the American political process still has some life in it yet and that people like Durbin and McCain could, after their debate, sit down and work out a pragmatic solution that addresses our most serious problems.
Their conversation could be a prelude to some sort of realistic consensus, rather than the kind of angry truce that gave us the cobbled-together debt limit agreement.
Note: McCain’s and Durbin’s debate is available on line at www.c-spanvideo.org/program/300819-5