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 debt ceiling and setting a budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
The kickoff for the mud wrestling will be Sept. 9, when Congress returns to work from its five-week summer vacation. The first deadline will be Sept. 30, when government spending authorizations expire. The second will be mid-October, when the United States will hit its next debt limit.
Two messages on Monday, one from each side, show the country what awaits in the coming weeks. The first, from Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, was that Congress must raise the debt ceiling quickly so the government will not run out of money and that the Obama administration does not intend to bargain on the matter. The second, delivered by House Speaker John Boehner, 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 are needed to deal with the federal deficit and, in the long run, to tackle the national debt. The question is whether the cuts are done sensibly and with precision, or administered by a meat-ax like the sequester, which is inflicting painful, random damage on government services and employment.
In the meantime, with only a fight and not a solution on the fiscal issues being promised by Washington and with Vice President Joe Biden the latest in the administration 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 means that U.S. companies will have an excuse to raise gasoline prices at the pump for Labor Day, while disturbed global markets provide Wall Street a chance to pocket more commissions from transactions. Given this appalling circus posing as government, how are ordinary Americans supposed to win?