Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My thoughts on the debt deal

Well, it’s over for now.  The debt ceiling compromise has been signed into law. 

Like many, I’m disappointed, disgusted, discouraged and disillusioned with the process.  As President Obama said, it’s been messy and took far too long. 

But importantly, the debt limit was raised in time to avoid default, and the country won’t have to go through this again until after the election.  These two conditions turned out to be Obama’s lines in the sand, and we got them.

More than enough about the deal has been said by pundits and commentators, and their assessments range from “this is the worst ever” to “this is the best we could get.”  Neither Democrats nor Republicans are celebrating or claiming victory, and no one is proud of the process by which the deal got done.  I have nothing new to add in terms of interpretation or analysis.  It's time to move forward.

To put this deal in perspective and move on, it seems to me that I can choose to see the glass as half empty, or as half full.

If I choose to see the glass as half empty, I would probably be stuck wallowing around in thoughts like these:

Obama should never have agreed to link the debt ceiling to deficit reduction.  But since he did, he should have been more of a leader and put forward his own plan.  He should have fought harder for a balanced deal with revenues as well as spending cuts.  And when that failed, he should have invoked the Fourteenth Amendment and not allowed the Republicans to hold the country’s credit rating hostage.

But if I take that “glass-is-half-empty” view, what would it get me?  I’d be depressed, demoralized, and bemoaning Democrats’ chances for 2012.  

Or I can choose to see the glass as half full.  I can remind myself that without every Democrat and Independent now in the House and Senate, and without Barack Obama in the White House, the country would be much worse off in terms of my values and priorities than it is now, even with this less-than-great deal forced on us by blackmailers. 

I can remind myself that Obama and the Democrats must recapture the center to win in 2012 and that while this legislation has unsettled the base (which will vote Democratic anyway), it may help with that.  As Jonathan Chait wrote Monday in the New Republic:

The thinking is that Obama lost the support of a key centrist element of his coalition [in the 2010 elections] due to the perception that he’s an out-of-control spender who created big deficits. The perception is wrong, but that doesn’t really matter. Signing onto a major deficit reduction deal helps rebuild Obama’s image. That the deal consists entirely of spending cuts probably only helps.

And as Jennifer Steinhauer wrote yesterday in the NY Times:

The wrangling in Congress laid bare divisions within both parties, with the final passage in the Senate relying on the votes of the remaining center of each party — 28 Republicans, 45 Democrats and one independent voted aye — with the most right- and left-leaning members left ultimately on the sidelines.

The votes of Florida’s two senators reflect this divide.  From “Florida senators' debt votes reflect Washington divide” in today’s St. Petersburg Times:

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson [who voted aye] cast it as a grand compromise. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio [who voted no] called it a bad deal.

Consider this letter to the editor  in Monday’s New York Times:

No one seems to be pointing the finger at those most responsible for the debt-ceiling debacle we have witnessed in recent weeks — the Democrats who chose to sit out the November 2010 election. Low Democratic turnout was an important reason for the extreme right-wing victories in Congressional races.   And now, we are all paying the price.

Winning in 2012 will depend greatly on getting out the vote, and our ability to do so will depend greatly on how each of us chooses to think about this deal. 

Only if we put our disappointment and second-guessing behind us and choose to think the glass is half full will we be willing to do what it’s going to take. 

I choose to see the glass as half full.  Can you?

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