What’s This Debt Ceiling Business About Anyway?
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There’s a time during the day (usually right before bed) that my brother calls the witching hour. It’s when my adorable nephews have reached some sort of peak craziness, either being super hyper, really tired and cranky, or sometimes somewhat destructive. I’m afraid we have reached the witching hour in Washington, D.C. With just hours before the nation hits the debt ceiling, potentially causing a financial catastrophe, I couldn’t tell you what was going to happen. And even if I did, it might change by the time this column gets posted.

The fate of our nation’s economy lies in the hands of House Speaker John Boehner, and he appears to be stuck between wanting to keep his speakership or acquiescing to the fringe elements of his party.  But there is one thing that is clear to me—after the last week, the Republican party needs Olivia Pope. Right now their approval ratings are in the tank, with an overwhelming majority of Americans blaming them for the government shutdown. Republicans are currently less popular than dog poop. Actually, I take back what I said. I’m not even sure Pope, in all her fabulousness, could save this caucus from imploding—a fate they have brought upon themselves.

I want to be very clear about what we just watched over the past two weeks. The Senate passed a bill that would have kept the government open, keeping more than 800,000 people on the job. That bill had enough votes to pass the House with overwhelming support from Democrats and 20-plus moderate Republicans who publically said they would vote for it. But John Boehner was more interested in saving face with the Tea Party, and he refused to bring the bill to the floor. So for the past two weeks, they have tried to put forth piecemeal bills they knew had NO chance of passing the Senate or getting the President’s signature, just to prove to their base that they’re standing up to Obama and the dreaded Obamacare. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people worried about how they were going to pay their bills; vital programs to help low-income mothers began to run out of money; critical research on cures for diseases like cancer were put on hold; thousands of kids were kicked out of Head Start. All because John Boehner was scared or didn’t want to stand up to the Tea Party.

Well, I hope he’s pleased with himself. Because at the moment, it looks like what he wanted to avoid is going to happen anyway. Of course this may all change, but at the moment, it appears that Senate Democrats and Republicans have reached a deal to open up the government and raise the debt ceiling into early 2014. Reports say the House will take up the bill, and guess what? Boehner would likely put it on the floor for a vote, expecting its passage with Democratic and some moderate Republican support. Exactly what could have happened TWO weeks ago!

So what is all this mess really about? Sure, there is a strong ideological disagreement between the President and the far right (one believes in an effective government helping the people, the other wants to destroy it). But it’s hard to believe that this guy would have shown up in front of the Clinton White House in 1995 during the government shut down. I can hear some people now “Ugh, why do you have to make it about race?” Um, I didn’t. Once this gentleman decided to show up to the home of a Black president waving around the Confederate flag, he made it about race. And the fact that the other speakers at this event (I’m looking at YOU Senator Ted Cruz) didn’t denounce his presence is telling. What am I supposed to make of that?

All in all, it’s been an awful few weeks in our nation’s capital. And now we watch and wait. Will Ted Cruz filibuster the Senate deal? Will Boehner try to add poison amendments to it? Or will he let the clean bill come to the floor? One can only hope cooler heads prevail…and pray that we don’t go thru this again in a few months.

Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Senior Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123

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