This week the White House and Capitol Hill finally came to an agreement on a plan to raise the public debt ceiling and reduce projected federal budget deficits.

The immediate effect of the agreement is to avert almost certain default by the U.S. government on some obligations, owing to the fact that Washington DC must borrow almost $150 billion just to pay bills coming due in August.

The debt crisis that has roiled the nation’s capital for months can be looked at on two levels—the budgetary facts and figures and the lawmaking process itself. Public debt and budget deficit data and forecasts are readily available, as are good summaries of the final agreement.

Equally important, however, may be the public’s perception that a hyper-partisan political process has come to fuel acrimonious disagreement on every issue. Many Americans worry that decision-making on issues vital to the nation and to the world has become, in a word, dysfunctional. Read more.

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Debt Crisis Casualty: Public Trust

Thu Aug 4, 2011

This week the White House and Capitol Hill finally came to an agreement on a plan to raise the public debt ceiling and reduce projected federal budget deficits.

The immediate effect of the agreement is to avert almost certain default by the U.S. government on some obligations, owing to the fact that Washington DC must borrow almost $150 billion just to pay bills coming due in August.

The debt crisis that has roiled the nation’s capital for months can be looked at on two levels—the budgetary facts and figures and the lawmaking process itself. Public debt and budget deficit data and forecasts are readily available, as are good summaries of the final agreement.

Equally important, however, may be the public’s perception that a hyper-partisan political process has come to fuel acrimonious disagreement on every issue. Many Americans worry that decision-making on issues vital to the nation and to the world has become, in a word, dysfunctional.

The cliffhanger final votes of Monday and Tuesday may have saved the U.S. from default. But the vitriolic process by which Congress and the White House hammered out the agreement has shaken trust in the institutions of government.

With the economy teetering on the edge of a double-dip recession and unemployment still above 9 percent, many Americans are asking if our elected officials will ever be able to transcend partisan politics on the biggest issues of our time.

The public is no doubt right both to be frustrated with their senators and representatives for dragging out the debt crisis until the last possible minute and skeptical that the U.S. Congress will ever be able to get its act together. But as the gloomy haze of partisan battle begins to recede one fact should stand out—agreement was reached.

In the final House vote, 269 republicans and democrats voted for the legislation, including Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as well as Rep Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who cast her first vote since being seriously wounded in a January assassination attempt. And in the Senate, 74 democrats and republicans voted to approve the bill, sending it to the President for signature.

Put another way, at the end of the day, at least on this issue, a majority of senators and representatives found a way to build a bridge between the two towers of polar opposite political ideologies.

Does this represent a change in sentiment that will be the basis of a new era of bipartisanship? Hardly. The two political parties remain far apart philosophically on the big issues, including taxes and entitlement spending and in some cases whether a debt crisis even exists. And looming on the horizon is Election Day 2012, now front and center for President Obama, the republican presidential candidates, every member of the House of Representatives and one-third of the U.S. Senate.

Still, default was averted and an historic agreement was reached that promises ultimately to reduce future U.S. government budget deficits and set the stage for getting the government’s fiscal house in order.

More importantly, Congress and the President have much work to do—to restore economic growth; get the jobs machine going again; save Social Security; put Medicare on a sound financial footing; support our brave servicemen and women in harm’s way in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere; and, mindful that this week’s agreement was but a first step, do the really heavy lifting of reducing gigantic projected federal budget deficits. On these and other issues partisan politics can’t be allowed to stop progress.

As a result of the agonizing drama that played out in the last few weeks public trust in Congress as an institution is probably at an all-time low. But as we watched Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi and especially Rep. Gabby Giffords cast their “Yes” votes on Monday night we were reminded that the individuals serving in Congress, republicans and democrats, are Americans first and politicians second. We can expect no less.