Debt showdown


Americans must be appalled to learn, from both sides of the political street, that they are about to be subjected again to partisan wrangling over raising the national debt ceiling and setting a federal budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

The start of the mud wrestling will be Sept. 9, when Congress returns from its summer vacation. The first deadline will be Sept. 30, when government spending authorizations expire. The second will be in mid-October, when the nation will hit its next debt limit.

Two recent messages, one from each side, show the country what awaits in the coming weeks. The first, from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, was that Congress must raise the debt ceiling quickly so the government will not run out of money. He said the Obama Administration does not intend to bargain on the matter.

The second, delivered by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, was that Americans should expect “a whale of a fight” over these fiscal issues.

The debt limit and the budget are critically important, and both problems must be worked out to keep the country functioning. The national debt will hit a horrifying $16.7 trillion in mid-October.

At the same time, Americans know that the United States must pay its bills, the same as a household must pay its electric and water bills, or else. A mix of new revenues and budget cuts is needed to deal with the federal deficit and, in the long run, to tackle the national debt.

The question is whether the cuts will be made sensibly and with precision, or administered by a meat ax such as the budget sequester, which is inflicting painful, random damage on government services and employment.

Meanwhile, Washington is promising a fight over, rather than a solution to, its fiscal issues. Vice President Joe Biden is the latest administration official to pound the war drums on Syria. The world oil price is rising and global markets are described as disturbed.

The climb in the oil price gave U.S. companies an excuse to raise gasoline prices at the pump for Labor Day. Disturbed global markets offer Wall Street a chance to pocket more commissions from transactions.

Given this appalling circus posing as government, how are ordinary Americans supposed to win?