Excuses; we all make them, and we all hate them. Whether they come from a spouse, child, co-worker or the person across the counter, we want what we want when we want it, and hold the alibis.
But if there’s one place where excuses seem to be welcomed, it is the nation’s capital, where Congress just handed the White House a “dog ate my homework” cop-out it will carve in stone for years to come.
President Barack Obama set that tone in his statements Thursday, hours after signing a deal passed by Congress the night before ending the 16-day federal government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling — for the time being, anyway.
In decrying his political opponents’ tactics, the president made it clear any downturn in the economy that occurs in the final three-plus years of his term will be blamed on the two-week stoppage.
“These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy. We don’t know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth,” he said.
“Over the past four years, our economy has been growing, our businesses have been creating jobs, and our deficits have been cut in half. ... but nothing has done more to undermine our economy these past three years than the kind of tactics that create these manufactured crises.”
In other words, the buck stops over there with those other guys.
Talk about paving a golden road ahead of yourself. There’s nothing a politician loves more than someone else to blame for the problems laid at his feet — past, present and future. In trying to derail Obamacare and force a decision on the nation’s mounting debt, Republicans opened a handy escape hatch for the president to wiggle through when the going gets tough.
Experts will continue to debate what true effect the shutdown had on the economy. As the deal emerged Thursday, financial markets surged. Furloughed federal workers will receive the back pay they lost, so most of the damage will be repaired. So how much actual impact it will have over the long haul is uncertain.
But it’s clear that the shutdown accomplished nothing. Republicans suspended government operations as part of their goal to defund the Affordable Care Act. That strategy failed, though the health exchange’s balky website has accomplished so far what the law’s foes couldn’t.
The threat to resist raising the debt ceiling in hopes of forcing moves to rein in entitlements and lower the nation’s rising deficit also was little more than an empty bluff.
And while government employees are back at work and we can borrow money to pay the bills a little while longer, the deal signed is just another Band-aid on top of a stack of old Band-aids. All Congress did, other than spend two weeks grandstanding, was spike the ball and stop the clock. The legislation funds the government only until Jan. 15 and gives Treasury power to borrow above the $16.7 trillion limit up to Feb. 7. Nothing has been fixed for the long run.
With the deal done, such as it is, everyone will take a deep breath, go to their neutral corners, then begin gearing up for the same donnybrook in a few months’ time. They are no closer to an actual budget or a solution to the nation’s fiscal challenges.
The much-needed debates over spending, debt and health insurance mandates have been delayed for the umpteenth time, until early 2014 when the midterm election campaigns will be in full swing. By then, Obamacare will be much more entrenched and harder to undo, while businesses will be forced to deal with its negative effects by cutting back full-time workers, reducing benefits and delaying expansion or hiring. That uncertainty, and the next looming red dates on the calendar, will undermine the economy more than any harm done by the actual shutdown.
Some ripple effects could show up sooner. The National Retail Federation reported Wednesday that shoppers planned to reduce spending for the upcoming holiday season. More than half of consumers surveyed blame the economy for denting their holiday budgets; nearly 3 in 10 fault the political bickering in Washington.
Thus, both sides will use the shutdown fiasco as ammo to fire at the other side in next year’s elections, even though such rhetoric likely will sway no one but the amen choruses within their own ranks. Republicans want to regain the Senate and Democrats aim to reclaim the House, their bicameral struggle the source of the current state of gridlock.
And for his part, the campaigner in chief on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue will try to tighten the knot on that millstone around the GOP’s neck every chance he gets between now and January 2017 when he leaves office.
Obama said Thursday the public is “completely fed up with Washington” and that he and Congress must work to regain Americans’ trust. No fooling, Mr. President. But rest assured, he is as much a part of that problem as the Capitol Hill gang.
We’re tempted to drop the term “clowns” to describe them, but it seems unfair to liken hard-working circus performers to the crowd of loudmouth goldbricks on both sides who strut, preen, stall and avoid any semblance of true statesmanship.
Washington isn’t just broken, as many claim. It’s pitifully inept. And it continues to spin out excuses for failed leadership like cotton candy, excuses we are all sick of hearing but will echo in our ears for some time to come.