COMMENTARY | According to CNN Money, the stakes are grim: America has never before been in a position where it could not pay its debt. While the Great Depression of the 1930s may trump the Great Recession of today in terms of economic misery, the overwhelming load of federal government debt in 2011 far exceeds anything beyond the imaginations of Depression-era presidents Herbert Hoover and FDR. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is warning of "catastrophe" -- never a good word to be heard from anyone in Washington, D.C.
The problem everyone's talking about is the debt ceiling. Basically, the United States government has gone as deep into debt as it legally can. Spending cuts must be made, government revenue must increase, or the debt ceiling must be raised. The feds can either spend less, tax more, or increase the amount of "acceptable" debt. In all likelihood, some combination of all three will occur, hopefully in some sort of elixir that, though annoying to many, will be begrudgingly accepted by most.
According to the Associated Press, while the Obama White House has made significant overtures toward Republicans to get a deal passed, many conservative legislators have rebuffed the offers. The president's original position, that both spending cuts and tax increases should occur in tandem to manage the debt, is unpopular with GOP stalwarts. Many powerful Republicans insist on no tax increases, and instead wish to see government spending controlled through cutting expenditures. With neither side wanting to compromise, budget talks held at the White House appear to have become childish bickering sessions, says Politico. The 112th Congress, according to Foreign Policy magazine, may legitimately be considered the worst Congress ever.
With such a pressing problem, why this worrisome lack of bipartisanship? By all accounts there is a real problem at hand, yet House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and president Barack Obama cannot discuss things civilly. Their inability to behave as professionals delays any sort of much-needed budget agreement and harms actual citizens whose jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance, dependent on federal funds.
I believe that much of the lack of bipartisanship stems from the fact that too few of our nation's leaders have ever faced poverty, unemployment, or layoffs. As a result of their wealth and connections they have never worried about their own income. Questions over taxing, spending, and expenditure reductions are, therefore, simply academic abstracts to them: The harms caused by each debt-wrangling option are known only as concepts, theories, and quotes, not through valid experience.
Only when a problem is truly understood, and its magnitude appreciated, do the parties involved actually have a vested stake in figuring out a solution in a timely and professional manner.
- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
- Herbert Hoover
- Obama White House
- Great Depression of the 1930s