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Time for some pain in the debt talks

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Well folks, if you didn’t think it was crunch time for lawmakers in Washington, it’s clear now. Talk is cheap. That’s not me saying it. That’s the world’s three credit agencies, Moody’s, Finch and now Standard & Poor’s, which all have threatened that the U.S. risks losing its top-notch credit rating if it cannot fix the debt mess.


Some Democrats would see this month’s announcements as proof positive that Republicans are playing with fire here and they should abandon their childish antics to force President Obama to deep spending cuts.

What nonsense.

If the Republicans were to allow the limit on the debt ceiling to be raised, it would give the country what, a two-year reprieve? We need long-term reform and austerity, not short-term political fixes that get us through the next election. That’s how we get in trouble every few years.

What the Big Three credit agencies’ announcements do tell me is that gridlock in Washington is not isolated only to the Federal City. That rhetoric and lack of action means something to real-world people out trying to move products, goods and services in a global economy.

Both parties are responsible for this mess. And the sooner lawmakers on both sides stop running to their favorite cable studios after every meeting at the White House to blast the other side with cheap insults, the sooner we can address some serious issues.

I’ve learned one thing this month that should continue to teach future leaders lessons for decades – we can’t afford to have politicians who sit around and do nothing and expect to get reelected. It’s no longer enough to “wait till November” to let elections decide who the winner and loser are in the prior cycle.

Voters should pay close attention to this impasse. Billions of dollars and perhaps trillions more in lost economic activity hang in the balance. Unlike Ireland, Spain, Greece and other countries who either have or come eerily close to default, the U.S. can actually DO SOMETHING about its current fiscal straits. And that does not mean a quick vote to raise the debt ceiling. In effect, all we would be doing is taking out another credit card. We don’t do that at home when we’re tens of thousands in debt. Why should our federal government do the same when we’re trillions in the hole?


The Congress now faces a choice. It must choose between the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. One or the other is certain. If House and Senate members take the easy way out of these debt talks, they and this nation will come to regret those actions. Regret defined here is an emotional and intelligent dislike for personal past behaviors. And that is clearly what they, and we, will face if we don’t turn this corner toward fiscal austerity.

The pain of regret will leave its scar for years. Even if we extend the debt ceiling in some artificial or short-term way, regret will still haunt us. For it will mean that policymakers weren’t prepared to make the difficult and lasting decisions to avoid such calamities in the future. That is why this debate embodies so many other policy discussions. Think about it – future negotiations over taxes, entitlements, new programs, old programs – they will all hinge on how this Congress emerges from these discussions. Will both sides agree that enough is enough, and put an end to the credit card mentality that has gripped this government?

The pain of discipline is equally unpleasant. I won’t mince words. It will not be easy or free of deep afflictions. We passed that threshold decades ago. Discipline means the tough decisions were made in the name of long-term dividends. We will surely benefit if Congress can get a grip on its spending habits. More importantly, our economy will breathe a little easier and run more smoothly without the crushing saddle of debt.


Yes, folks, it’s time to remind policymakers and every American that these debt negotiations will bring pain the likes of which we have not seen as a prosperous nation. But the first step toward economic recovery is first acknowledging the inevitable.

The stakes are getting higher. These next few days are critical.

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