Their View | Debt default is the real threat

October 1, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News on Tuesday.

As we once again experience the brinkmanship in our dysfunctional Congress that points to a government shutdown, the worst of it is this: It’s just a practice round.

The main event comes later this month, when Congress must raise the debt ceiling or cause the nation to default on its debts. Federal officials can’t be sure when the money will run out, but they think Oct. 17 is the deadline to avoid an international calamity.

Most Washington pundits seem convinced it won’t come to that. It never has before.

But this time, we’re not so sure.

The standoff increasingly looks like an ideological holy war, with reason and caution sacrificed at the altar of victory regardless of the cost to the American economy.

And while the Republican Party and President Barack Obama have dug in, it’s the extreme, outrageous ultimatums of the tea party conservatives who apparently control the GOP in the House that got us to this point.

Now it’s difficult to see where negotiations can even begin.

But somebody’s got to do something. We need a hero.

Knowing that one side or the other may take the political blame for a national default is cold comfort to working Americans just emerging from the last recession.

The government shutdown may prove painful to some Americans, but mostly it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable and nerve-racking.

However, the nation failing to pay its debts would be a disaster internationally. It would shake this nation’s reputation to its core, send stock markets plunging and, with them, the economy.

The federal government has been shut down before, and the nation survived. In 1995 and 1996, the last time politics led to a shutdown, it was the Republicans who took the heat. They underestimated then-President Bill Clinton and misread the public’s mood.

They paid for it at the polls.

This time the GOP is blaming the president for being unwilling to negotiate — but how you negotiate on a demand to stop or delay health care reform when it’s already underway is beyond us.

What’s the compromise? Make it fail?

Hitting a firm debt ceiling and defaulting on financial obligations is another story. And, to contort a phrase from unsuccessful presidential candidate and billionaire Ross Perot, that giant sucking sound you hear is the leadership vacuum in our nation’s capital.

We don’t know the solution to the stalemate.

Giving in to blackmail never is a good idea, but there has to be a way out for both sides that will save the nation from default.

Economic calamity Oct. 17 cannot be an option for this great — or at least once great — nation.

We need a hero. The leader who finds the way out of this is the one who will score with the public.

And won’t that be better than being able to blame the other guys for disaster?

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