Liberal: Congress still bitterly divided despite passing debt deal
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 19:01
There are plenty of interesting moments in Steven Spielberg's soon-to-be-Oscar-adorned “Lincoln.” Perhaps one of the most poignant scenes takes place on the floor of the House of Representatives.
The scene portrays the tense conclusion of President Lincoln’s hard fought campaign to ensure passage of the 13th Amendment. We see the representatives voting on the bill and breathe a sigh of relief as Democrats break ranks with their party to cast their votes in favor of the historic piece of legislation.
It’s an encouraging moment to witness. Politicians dropping thick-skulled ideology and reaching across the aisle to vote for what is undeniably right at the epicenter of the most divisive moment in U.S. history.
In this light, there is some strange dramatic irony to be found in Republicans’ refusal to accept an invitation to a White House screening of “Lincoln” extended by President Barack Obama. The screening, attended by the filmmakers as well as Democratic lawmakers, is only a single polaroid in a photo album filled with the president’s lone figure, extending a welcoming hand into negative space.
It is, of course, a long walk from rubbing elbows at a film screening to harmoniously compromising over an important issue, but how can any group of people be expected to make decisions if half of them refuse to be civil? House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, himself has refused multiple social invitations from the president. At this point, it’s political suicide for a Republican to be photographed anywhere near Obama.
This is where we stand during one of the most divisive times since those Democratic representatives defected to vote in favor of the Thirteenth Amendment. It was painfully evident as Congress stumbled into a last-minute deal over the fiscal cliff, and it should be equally evident as it lethargically shuffles into the upcoming debate over the debt ceiling.
The deal reached over the fiscal cliff can be likened to a bandage placed over a crack in a dam (a cheap, generic-brand bandage). Although it saved us from austerity, it did nothing to address the impending debt ceiling problem.
The U.S. debt limit was reached on Dec. 31, 2012. If Congress does not raise it, the government will come up about $700 billion short in 2013.
This, of course, was common knowledge among lawmakers as they debated measures to ward off the fiscal cliff. Yet, they decided to put off conversation about the debt ceiling, as they were barely able to arrive at the legislation that ended up being passed.
Their failure to take action has forced the U.S. Treasury to enact extraordinary measures, delaying payments until funds can be raised. Those measures should be exhausted by Feb. 15. If nothing is done before that time, 7 percent of the national GDP will be frozen — an effect more devastating than the recent Great Recession.
Fifteen days ahead of this crisis and serious talks have yet to begin. What has been discussed so far doesn’t promise anything exceeding Congress’ recent performance.