OPINION: Default deadline approaches as leaders from both parties hesitate

As the debt deadline approaches, the president calls for class warfare. The Republican Senate calls for an unrealizable goal of a constitutional balanced budget amendment.

The attention being paid to this game of find someone or something to blame appears to be minimal outside of Washington.

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The markets do not seem to take seriously the idea that there will be a default.

The American people have become so disenchanted with the quality of governance coming out of Washington that they have generally assigned it to the pile of things irrelevant to their day-to-day lives.

Most Americans look at this act of “blamesmanship” that is proceeding, especially from the president, and simply scratch their heads. Does Washington realize that Americans are concerned about having and keeping a good job?

They want a reasonably sized government that does the important and affordable things, and does not bankrupt our children. Most Americans have concluded that although these concerns are obvious to them and their neighbors, no one in the White House or up the street at the Capitol understands.

Government leaders are still trying to adjust their tone to the politics of these concerns while not actually addressing the concerns. This is because addressing those concerns requires them to face a core set of extremely unpleasant facts about the arithmetic of spending and the promises that have been made but cannot be met.

The politics of the day have not yet reached the point where leaders believe the people are willing to hear the message that the country must tighten its collective belt.

The elected may be right. To step up to these problems, as simple as they may be in structure, is a challenging undertaking for the president and Congress.

It may be that we have to accept just muddling along, kicking the can a little farther down the path of fiscal disarray. Let the people who claim the mantle of leadership of the nation continue to look for someone else to blame.

In 2011, the buck definitely does not stop at the president’s desk. It gets spent and spent again, then borrowed against and spent some more. 

If questioned on the causes of the failure to address all this spending, the answer becomes some form of obfuscation: “It’s the rich” or “It’s not having a constitutional requirement.”

Actually, it is a lack of willingness to get ahead of the crowd by those chosen to be at the front of the crowd. It is an irony of our system of governance that most people run for office so they can be seen as leaders but they fear if they lead they will not be reelected. Thus, we stumble on with this default dance.

There will, of course, be a fix. It will, unfortunately, be an anemic event couched in grand terms. There first may need to be some drama, as seems to be required in these times before any political action at all is taken. It will probably be an artificial crisis on a weekend that carries into a new week by a few days.

But, unfortunately, there does not appear to be the will to stand up to the simple issue of a government that is too large to be affordable and getting dangerously larger with each new retiree.

The resolution of this piece of elementary mathematics will have to wait until there are no more rich to blame or constitutional amendments to propose.  Or, until we have a real debt crisis that will require real leaders and leadership to resolve.


Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and also as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee.