Democracy Inaction 2013: (Not) Raising the Roof

by Bella Pori

Like the ceiling can’t hold us.

In two days, the United States will hit our borrowing limit, also known as the debt ceiling. Unless Congress raises the debt ceiling, the nation will default on our debts. Both President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner refuse to negotiate, with the President agreeing to nothing but a raise of the debt ceiling, and the Speaker unwilling to do that without some provisions, such as lowering federal spending.

The government shutdown has harmed our nation’s economy, but defaulting on our debts would be worse. It means that the United States would no longer be able to pay people who have Treasury bonds, causing the bonds’ values to decrease, rendering the savings bonds your grandmother gave your for Christmas absolutely useless.

But this does not just have consequences in the United States. People around the world would lose faith in our Treasury’s debt, which has long been considered one of the most secure investments in the world. Failing to raise the debt limit could force the country into another economic crisis, similar to the one in 2007-08 that caused the recession we are still in the process of climbing out of.

Some argue that raising the debt limit is not a sustainable solution, because the United States is in a lot of debt already. But this isn’t the first time the debt ceiling has been raised. The debt limit has been raised 78 times since 1960, and 49 of those raises have been under Republican presidents. For the time being, not raising the debt limit would cause a lot more trouble than our ever-mounting debt would.

So how close is Congress to a deal? Unfortunately, not very. Late Thursday night, we started to hear that Congressional Republicans were going to meet with the White House to discuss possible negotiations. But early Saturday morning, House Republicans and the White House left their meeting with no deals and no plans for the coming days.

Senator McConnell (L) and Senator Reid (R)

With the threat of the nation’s default hanging over their heads, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) met to negotiate. On Saturday, Senator Reid introduced a bill that would raise the debt ceiling to $1.1 trillion, which would keep the country from defaulting until after the midterm elections in 2014. Unfortunately, fewer than sixty senators voted to proceed to debate which means that cloture on the motion to proceed was not achieved.

In layman’s terms, that means that not enough senators voted to debate on the bill. The vote fell mostly along party lines, with 53 senators voting for the motion and 45 voting against. Sixty senators must vote yes to achieve cloture (which basically ends debate on something).

At the last minute, however, Senator Reid switched his vote to a no, which leaves him the opportunity to bring up the same bill at a later time. We are likely to see other votes on the debt ceiling in the Senate, and hopefully the House, in the coming days.

Let’s hope that for this crisis, unlike the last one, cooler heads will prevail and Congress will actually come up with a solution to the problem.

Editor’s Note: As of publication, Congress was working hard to develop a plan acceptable to the House of Representatives, Senate, and White House to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown. While Senator Reid optimistically believed the Senate had a deal on the table this morning, the House has been indecisive and is in the process of developing its own plan. Regardless, both houses of Congress must pass the same piece of legislation that is also acceptable to President Obama in order to avoid a default and end the shutdown. Stay tuned…

Bella Pori is a junior at Barnard and a guest political contributor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of English Language FAQs and ABC News.


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