Opinion: Debt ceiling crisis wrecks havoc in Washington

By James Stein Oct 15, 2021
Image by Isabel Sperry
Image by Isabel Sperry

Democrats are fighting again. Mitch McConnell, the senate minority leader as well as the senate republicans filibustered a debt ceiling vote of all things, bills offering the biggest social and economic investments in decades hanging in the balance. And, there seems to be no consensus on what is going to happen. 

Some won’t even say what they want as they are centrists (cough, cough Kyrsten Sinema). Just another day in Washington I suppose. 

Meanwhile, the rest of us riff raff will live just another day with the consequences of government dysfunction. Now, before I go any further I’ll run through the basics for anyone who prioritizes self-care by keeping a healthy distance from the constant chaos of politics. 

You’ve probably heard about the two massive bills Democrats are trying to pass. They are the centerpiece of Biden’s agenda, and given the impending threat of the midterms, most of what he hopes to accomplish while in office. 

One is the bipartisan infrastructure bill which provides long overdue funding for repairs of roads and bridges, expands public transportation, invests in broadband access, builds electric school buses and a network of electric charging stations, and upgrades the country’s electrical grid and water infrastructure among other infrastructure renovations. 

The other bill which Democrats are crossing their fingers will pass is the reconciliation bill, named for the reconciliation process. This includes universal pre-K, child-care, free community college, paid-leave, expanded medicare benefits, pharmaceutical price reductions, green tax incentives, investments for environmental protections, a civilian climate corps, and tax hikes on incomes over $400,000. 

If these bills seem overstuffed that’s because the strategy is to pass years of policies simultaneously in order to respond to the nation’s many crises. 

In terms of the debt ceiling crisis, you’ll remember it from every previous administration as a recurring thorn for lawmakers. The problem is the government spends more money than it makes, and the debt ceiling was created to limit federal agencies from overspending without Congressional approval. 

So the Treasury Secretary has to ask Congress to raise or suspend the ceiling before the government can pay bills it’s already promised, including social security, tax refunds, aid, and the salaries of federal employees. The current crisis is also fueled by the Trump administration’s tax cuts for the wealthy. McConnell has weaponized this traditionally mundane procedure as leverage for policy demands. 

However, this time he has asked for nothing, and his motive seems simply making Democrats look fiscally irresponsible for midterms. Democrats have hardly stepped up to the plate though, instead wasting what could’ve been a responsibly swift display of action with continued bickering over Biden’s bills and the debt crisis. 

The most frustrating part is that despite the insufferable negligence of Republican lawmakers backing Mitch McConnell, he is right. No, not about it being solely one party’s responsibility to govern a nation of 329.5 million, but about Democrats being able to solve this independently. 

With reconciliation, changing filibuster rules, or even the absurdity of minting a trillion dollar coin, there is a way. But instead of coming together Democrats are playing into McConnell’s game of chicken. McConnell, for all his reckless power-playing, is at least decisive. 

This is a crucial trait for leaders in times of crisis, and yet, why is the man blocking action the only one displaying it? What will it take for Biden or Schumer or anyone to be as ferociously committed to a cause? I ask because while the world waits, damage is already happening, as just the thought that the government could default on its debts is enough to affect the global economy and the country’s credit. 

So yes, it may all work out in the end, but it should never be a situation to laugh about. The dance alone is irresponsible to the institution of democracy and inconsiderate to the millions of us rabble desperately in need of government action. 

I’d like to assume there are still members of congress with the people’s interest at heart, and I’m still hopeful that these policies will pass, but this childish squabble portrays a group of lawmakers more occupied with fighting each other, with merely barking, than with taking action and biting. 

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