Debt-ceiling debacle: A pox on all their houses

So Congress and the Obama administration have finally reached a tentative deal to raise the debt ceiling. Maybe, sort of.

 

I suppose they expect the American public, including the business community, to be grateful for ending this manufactured crisis, but given the economic harm they caused by causing this needless panic, they might not want to hold their collective breath.

From a president who is looking to shift the blame for a sagging economy, to a Republican-run House of Representatives that apparently hasn’t grasped the dynamics of divided government, this has been an appallingly stupid exercise in political theater.

In fairness, it has accomplished a great deal, including a further weakening of consumer and investor confidence at a time when quarterly GDP figures suggest the economy is teetering on the brink of a double dip recession.

Bravo, ladies and gentlemen.

Perhaps when the dust has cleared, the damage will be temporary, but there are no guarantees of that. In addition to putting the country through the ringer, the conduct of federal officials served to bring public opinion to the boiling point, and it could remain there for a while.

The litany of disgraceful performances begins with President Obama, who demonstrated that leading from behind is not a pretty sight. The economy is gradually weakening as we head toward an election year, and the leading Republican, Mitt Romney, has pulled even with him. What to do? Try to turn back the clock to 1995, when Bill Clinton played Newt Gingrich for a chump in a similar rumble over a government shutdown.

Offering no concrete plan of his own, Obama tried to play the Clinton hand, only to find that 1995 isn’t repeating itself. Judging by his declining poll numbers – he now is mired at an all-time low approval rating of 40% – Obama must seek treatment for a self-inflicted wound.

Congressional Republicans, especially many of the freshmen associated with the Tea Party, haven’t covered themselves with glory, either. While I share their interest in putting our finances in order, they need to learn to count. The GOP controls one house of Congress – that’s it. When that’s your hand, you accomplish what you can and live to fight another day, or another election.

Thanks in part to their uncompromising posture, Congress has even lower public approval (16%) than the president’s. Perhaps that doesn’t translate to individual congressmen, but I wouldn’t take much comfort heading into 2012.

When the only leader who is acting somewhat responsibly, House Speaker John Boehner, is known more for blubbering than for fortitude, that speaks volumes about the quality of leadership during this near debacle.

Sadder still, the framework of a debt limit deal that emerged from this gamesmanship might not make a difference. We’re so deeply in debt – $14.3 trillion and counting – that the nation’s AAA credit rating might be downgraded anyway. That would produce more grins for the economy when the cost of U.S. borrowing rises, and in case you haven’t noticed, the federal government has been doing a lot of that lately.

I swear, no foreign enemy can do more damage to the United States than we’re doing to ourselves. I just can’t wait to see the monthly jobs report for July, which is due out on Friday.

Perhaps Mitch McConnell had a point after all. The Senate minority leader, citing possible panic in the markets, caught plenty of flak a few weeks ago with his plan to basically give Barack Obama ownership of the national debt in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. His point was to avoid a default and make the 2012 election a referendum on fiscal discipline.

The plan went nowhere and what has ensued has damaged both Wall Street and Main Street. Consumers have further scaled back their spending, no doubt enthralled by the D.C. circus, including the spectacle of our president saying he could not guarantee that Social Security checks would go out after Aug. 2, a most reassuring stance based on a false choice.

Worse still, the manufacturing sector, which has been one bright spot, experienced its worst quarter since 2009.

Again, I say bravo ladies and gentlemen of our incomparable political class. My kingdom for someone who understands the Hippocratic oath: “First, do no harm.”

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