Once again, leaders from both political parties met yesterday morning to discuss a compromise on the federal budget.
Once again, they emerged with only an acknowledgement that they are "far apart" in their priorities and a plan to reconvene at the White House again on Sunday. The hope is to hammer out an actual deal at this next meeting, but escalating rhetoric and the track record of the last few months is enough to make anyone nervous.
Negotiations of this sort are an inevitable and important part of the machinery of democracy. But after a certain point — and with no less than the full faith and credit of the United States at stake — the American people can be forgiven for thinking their elected leaders are either taking the game of politics too far or unable to do their jobs.
The national discussion spurred each time the debt ceiling is up for a vote is useful in keeping Americans thinking in terms of fiscal responsibility. But the vote should function more as a reminder, a prompt to action, than as something on which our leaders actually fail to act responsibly.
Now the fight escalates with talk of whether the debt ceiling is constitutional under the 14th Amendment and whether unilateral action on the part of the president would be cause for impeachment — none of which is impressive to thoughtful voters. Memo to Congress and the president: Less political posturing and fewer threats. More action on a compromise.
The fact that the debt ceiling vote is at all tied to budget talks is a victory for Republicans. Getting Democrats to agree to a roughly 3-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases is another victory, as is the magnitude — in the neighborhood of $4 trillion — of cuts on the table. The White House is even allowing Social Security reform proposals to circulate.
Republicans have a winning hand. It's time to play it. Even if not perfect in principle, it secures long-term spending cuts and needed tax reform. Holding out at this point disrespects the system of compromise built into our representative democracy, as well as the intelligence of the American people, and it endangers the country's economic recovery.
Either way, refusing to make a deal is a mistake. It's time for a smart compromise and a vote to raise the debt ceiling.