Sunday’s New York Times headline said it all: “U.S. Sees Washington as Mad, And the Capital Doesn’t Argue.” The story went on to quote a Toronto accountant visiting Washington last week who described the situation well: “You guys are nuts. Instead of building the country, you are destroying it.”

Somehow, a routine procedural bill for raising the debt ceiling – to pay for past obligations already incurred by the country – has become a death star that is about to plunge the country into economic chaos. Up until the last few days, few believed that Congress would fail to find a way to avert such an obvious disaster.

As I write, it is Sunday, and while many pundits are still clinging to the hope that a deal will be done, some are pointing out that the current posturing of both parties could lead to a tragic miscalculation. A miscalculation in timing or missed messages or procedural delay could trigger the unthinkable – a U.S. default on its obligations.

It reminds me of how World War I started: Nobody wanted a war, negotiations were proceeding with every assurance of resolution, and then came a tragic miscalculation.

The Russian czar lost his nerve and mobilized the army. Once the Germans detected this, they started to mobilize – the spark had been ignited. Within weeks, all Europe was engulfed in the most brutal war of the 20th century – all from one small miscalculation.

We are close to such a moment here. We may avoid it. However, the sheer folly of the past several months has damaged our political system, perhaps irreparably.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but it is the Republicans in the House who bear the brunt of the responsibility.

Even the conservative Wall Street Journal opined editorially last week that “Republicans are not looking like adults to whom voters can entrust government.” The current crisis has been manufactured by Republican leadership to try to gain a political edge going into the 2012 elections.

Fundamentally, we do need a plan to address the federal deficit problem. The plan must cut projected levels of federal expenditure by some $3 trillion to $4 trillion over the next 10 to 15 years. With decent economic growth, such a plan can be accomplished without unreasonable hardship.

The only credible approach to the deficit problem is to combine significant spending cuts in entitlement programs and defense with raising additional revenue through an overhaul of our tax system.

Cuts alone are simply insufficient to do the job without crippling effects on entitlement programs, defense and many routine government programs. Whatever Republican leadership says, they have no credible plan that you or I or our children could live with to solve the deficit.

A reasonable combination of cuts and revenue increases was proposed late last year by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and this plan is the basis for the recent proposal by the Gang of Six (three Republicans and three Democrats) in the Senate.

These two plans are the framework for the “grand bargain” the president has been attempting, unsuccessfully, to negotiate with GOP leadership. In the end, we must get to this kind of agreement if we are to continue to have an economic future.

As of last week, fully 68 percent of Americans agreed. However, because the tea party representatives in the House caucus are acting more like a cult than like responsible representatives of the people, there is no hope of a “grand bargain.”

Short-term, we need to get by today’s deadline, hopefully with a solution that holds through the 2012 elections. Late Sunday, news suggests a compromise has been reached, but still must be voted on in both houses.

The compromise essentially kicks the can down the road – with luck, past the 2012 elections. Do not be deceived. This is not a solution. It is instant coffee dressed up to look like a latte.

We know the outline of the plan that defines the only hope for the next generation of Americans. That plan must involve both spending cuts and tax increases. All those in Congress who stand by a “no taxes” pledge should be branded for what they are – ideologues who have shown they are not fit to govern and are a danger to democracy.

The responsible majority – a group that clearly includes Republicans like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, many Democrats and many independents – must speak and speak decisively now. If we do not forge a coalition of the reasonable, we will forfeit much of America’s economic heritage and future vitality.


Ron Bancroft is an independent strategy consultant based in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]