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Editorial: Debt limit deadline provokes action

10:12 PM, Oct. 16, 2013  |  Comments
In the end, it was the threat of hitting the debt ceiling that provoked an agreement and a way out of the 16-day partial government shutdown and a possible financial default.
In the end, it was the threat of hitting the debt ceiling that provoked an agreement and a way out of the 16-day partial government shutdown and a possible financial default.
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In the end, it was the threat of hitting the debt ceiling that provoked an agreement and a way out of the 16-day partial government shutdown and a possible financial default.

The threat of a government shutdown - which idled about 800,000 federal workers and cut off funds to government services believed to be nonessential - wasn't enough to provoke a compromise.

But the specter of not paying our bills was enough to bring about action.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Thursday was the last day the Treasury could guarantee the government wouldn't default on its debts, thus necessitating an increase in the $16.7 trillion debt limit. The government hit the debt ceiling in May and has been using accounting maneuvers ever since. But that can go on for only so long, and today was the deadline.

So on Wednesday, after House Speaker John Boehner signaled he would allow a vote on a bill that didn't include defunding of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Senate leaders agreed on a measure.

The deal calls for a spending plan that will keep the government open through Jan. 15, increase the debt ceiling through Feb. 7 and call for a budget conference committee by Dec. 13.

So we've won a reprieve.

But it's difficult to believe we won't be back in the same situation three months from now.

Remember that on March 1, Congress was willing to allow the across-the-board cuts of the sequestration to go into effect, an unthinkable act when that plan was devised. And on Oct. 1 it was willing to partially shut down the government.

What will change between now and Jan. 15 that will alter the hyper-partisan, crisis politics Congress seems to conduct?

The defunding of the Affordable Care Act should be off the table. As Charley Jacobs, associate professor of judicial process and American politics at St. Norbert College in De Pere, points out, even though the public has been lukewarm to Obamacare, or dislikes it, "they didn't want the debt and budget items to derail" the start of the health insurance marketplace.

Jacobs said this time Republicans may look for common ground, concede those matters and hit harder on some of their big issues. Those issues include entitlement reform and changes to the tax code.

The group that might have the biggest influence of future negotiations, though, is the public.

The voters saw through the ploy to defund the Affordable Care Act in order to get a spending bill and didn't like it. Many polls reflected that.

"The public saw it as partisan politics and not about policy," Jacbos said. "We don't give the public enough credit to know that Congress is supposed to be working on policy issues."

Plus, once government services were taken away, many people realized how much the federal government impacts their daily lives, Jacobs said.

This increased the pressure on Congress.

Therefore, if in addition to debt limit deadlines, Congress caves to public pressure, then perhaps it's up to us to talk to our lawmakers and let them know we want a deal well before we're embroiled in another fiscal crisis.

That is, after all, their job.

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