Bob Franken

Hearst-New York Times Column

(As usual, the arrangement with thesyndicators means my columns appearhere a week after their newspaper release)

^AFTER THE BIN LADEN VICTORY, IT’S BACK TO BUSINESS@< ^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@< ^By BOB FRANKEN@= ^C.2011 Hearst Newspapers@= WASHINGTON _ Now that our leaders have shown they can take decisive steps to protect us from the mortal dangers of terrorism, maybe this is the time to demonstrate they can also rescue us from the corrosive effects of politics. The matter of raising the debt ceiling is an immediate case in point. Wouldn't it be nice if the glow of unity that accompanies the end of Osama Bin Laden would spread into the tough debate that is revving up over raising the debt ceiling, considering that failure to do so could undermine the nation's financial credibility and credit for the foreseeable future? Interestingly, in the same morning President Obama travelled to Ground Zero in New York, Vice President Joe Biden was convening the first budget negotiation between warring politicians in Washington. Democrats have been calling for a clean bill that would raise the borrowing limit without any linkage to budget cuts. No way, say Republicans, who want to extract more spending cuts before they embrace a higher debt ceiling. Biden bowed to reality and said: ``They're not technically connected but the fact of the matter is they're practically and politically connected.'' And House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., conceded that he was ``under no illusion'' that the Medicare slices he proposed would survive the political storm that was already thundering. That's a start but they're a long, long way from determining how to undig each side's heels on spending cuts and tax increases. How often will we hear Republican House Speaker John Boehner mellifluously speak about Democratic ``job destroying'' spending proposals and President Obama's mantra about the need to ``win the future.''

Take little comfort from Treasury Secretary Timothy’s Geithner’s assurances that the mid-May deadline really isn’t one because he can use accounting gimmicks to keep the U.S. afloat into August. But imagine how diminished that makes this great nation appear. It’s the equivalent of the chintzy company that doesn’t pay its accounts receivable for months and months so it can squeeze a little interest out of the funds it owes to its vendors. The world would see this for what it is: Cheesy.

The politicians should take note of the fact that the public gets it. A Washington Post-Pew Research telephone poll taken earlier this week _ a day after the celebrations over bin Laden _ asked adult respondents whether they were “satisfied with the way things are going in this country.”

The pollsters found that 60 percent answered they were unsatisfied and less than one in three gave a positive reply. The president himself got a 9-point jump in his approval rating following the dramatic victory in the war on terrorism, but polls show that the economy remains the nation’s number one issue.

The bad news is that the number one issue for our leaders is the 2012 election. Unfortunately, raising the debt limit can’t wait that long. Failure to raise the limit by then would leave the winner standing atop a pile of financial rubble.

Many were thrilled to hear the crowds shout “U-S-A! U-S-A!” on the news about bin Laden. But now it’s back to business as usual and the messy, gritty bargaining that leads to the kind of compromise. These congressional warriors have to, for the sake of the U-S-A.
^–@< (Email: bob(at); on the Web:

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