Dave Kitchell: Debt ceiling debate raised the roof on patience
Tuesday, August 09, 2011 5:50 AM
LOGANSPORT - It’s symbolic that Congressmen and children are the people we most often associate with recess.
Americans who followed the debt ceiling debate over the past month have to wonder if some of the people they elected are really more like children than adults. At the end of a tumultuous week in which our American conscience collectively had to be wishing Congress would put the country down before they broke it, an 11th hour deal to raise the debt ceiling was reached. But more questions than answers remain in the aftermath of a final vote before 435 legislators went home for the rest of the summer.
It’s hard to find a winner in the aftermath of an historic, hot summer in Washington when Congress rushed through so many proposals and compromises it left millions invested in needed federal transportation projects in limbo on their way out of town. Whoops, that must have been the note in the “In Basket” for House Speaker John Boehner and Senate President Harry Reid. Meanwhile, the nation lost $400 million in ticket taxes because of a congressional snafu.
It’s hard to find a winner in the debt ceiling debate. Tea Partiers? They didn’t get what they wanted, which was a balanced budget amendment – an impossible demand given the time constraints. Republicans? They didn’t get what they wanted. Even though they succeeded in preventing tax increases, that may be only temporary, depending on what a 12-member Congressional “super committee” recommends. Democrats? They didn’t get what they wanted either. They didn’t close loopholes, including the Bush tax cuts and a tax break for corporate jet manufacturers.
The reality of this situation is that represents political theater and nothing more. For those who have been watching the debt situation closely over the past decade, there out to be outrage. During the Clinton Administration, a Democratic president and a Republican Congress quietly enabled the country to be on a track to pay off the national debt. Where have those days gone? What has transpired in Washington has done little to take us back a decade when there was realistic hope for ending our national debt.
As Hoosiers know, even a balanced budget amendment here doesn’t really balance a budget. Some expenses can be delayed. Other obligations go unpaid, unfunded or substantially cut. Bonding enables some gaps to be covered. In the end, the “smoke and mirrors” people on both sides of the aisle refer to make up for shortfalls.
As a percent of Gross Domestic Product, our debt is high, but not any higher than it was during World War II when we ended the Depression. And if we had defaulted on our debt, the similar experience in Russia and Argentina suggest the economy would have been stronger in a year.
What this episode tells us is that the 12-member committee which eventually deals with this issue will have some serious clout and exposure. Feet will be held to the fire. But whether we as a nation are able to structure are income with our expenses is another matter. With wars ending, we have a realistic chance if there isn’t another Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 in the offing. That can happen if Americans who are unemployed or returning from military service are back on the payrolls and generating tax revenue. It can happen if American companies sitting on reserves are willing to take a chance on an economic recovery in which the automakers have already recovered. It can happen if the housing market can finally right itself and find the magnetic north of real home value and not the inflated values we became so accustomed to for the sake of refinancing and second mortgages.
It can happen if we don’t default on what really matters in this country – stabilizing a peaceful nation so that it becomes more prosperous with infrastructure, education, health care and a goal of full employment, even if that goal isn’t attainable.
To a certain extent, what we just witnessed in Washington was a game of chicken much like what we witnessed in late Hoosier James Dean’s role in “Rebel Without a Cause”. Some may remember the scene in which two teens play chicken with their hotrods – and one lost. In that movie, somebody went over a cliff. Last week, the nation could have, but we really witnessed the same kind of entertainment Dean gave us on the big screen. Congress gave it to us on our television screens, even if most members never saw the big picture of what needs to happen in this country.
Kitchell is an award-winning columnist and regular HPI contributor based in Logansport.