A crisis has been averted, default has been avoided (assuming the bill gets out of the still hostile House of Representatives and onto President Obama’s desk) and for now the months of debate over raising the debt ceiling has come to a conclusion—the debt ceiling will be increased, a boost in borrowing that’s supposed to secure the country’s finances through the beginning of 2013, and a little more than $2 trillion in spending cuts will trim our budget deficit. But think about what could have been: a grand bargain that would have reformed spending on entitlements like Medicare to control a program that is among the biggest contributors to our national debt; that could have made the necessary tweaks in Social Security to keep the system solvent for the next generation; a bargain that would call for a major overhaul of our antiquated tax structure, eliminating loopholes, lowering tax rates while expanding the base of taxpayers and generating new revenues; a deal that could have controlled spending on both military and social welfare programs. All of these items were discussed at one time or another, a promise of reshaping the way government is financed and spends its money and a way to make an opportunity out of a crisis.
Of course none of it came to fruition and we’re left with a deal that does take on some hard choices—cuts in domestic spending, including defense, of about $900 billion over 10 years—but leaves others to commissions and future Congressional votes. Given everything that was at stake and negotiations going on at the highest levels of leadership in the country, from the president to the Speaker of the House, why couldn’t a bigger, better, more complete deal be reached? How does this make you feel about the overall course of the United States, with a lousy economy and seemingly ineffective political process?
David Walker, founder and CEO, Comeback America Initiative; former Comptroller General of the U.S.; former president & CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation
Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget & director of the Fiscal Policy Program at the New America Foundation
Michael Dimock, associate director of Pew Research Center for the People & the Press