Politics
4:57 am
Sun July 29, 2012

Forget The Debt Ceiling? The 'Avalanche' Is Coming

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 1:21 pm

In August, lawmakers will be heading home to their districts for the month's recess. Last summer, things weren't quite so calm.

A year ago at this time, Congress was in a nasty and protracted battle over whether to raise the debt ceiling. If they didn't make a decision, the government was going to go into default. It's a fight that cost Congress its already waning public support, and cost American taxpayers $1.3 billion.

"Congress came up with an incredibly sort of Byzantine plan, where the two sides would handcuff themselves to each other and jump off a cliff together," NPR's Andrea Seabrook tells Weekend Edition guest host David Greene. "In other words, they would say, 'We are going to come up with a solution — or else.'"

The consequence of not finding a solution would be huge cuts to military and social spending. A supercommittee was charged with finding an alternative. Remember what they did?

"Nothing. It fizzled out. Nothing happened," Seabrook says. "And what we're left with now is this sword of Damocles that they hung over their own heads, which is these massive cuts. And it all takes place automatically at the beginning of 2013."

To avoid those automatic cuts, Congress needs to do something — now. Seabrook says they have two options: come up with another way to make the cuts or scrap the whole plan.


Interview Highlights

On the chances of a deal before the election

"I will go out on a limb and say there is no chance that this will happen before the election. At this point, everything is so partisan and so revolving around November, that everyone is expecting [this] huge number of big problems to be solved in the six weeks between the election and the end of the year. I mean, it's just an avalanche coming at the government."

On Americans' lack of faith in Congress

"What is wrong is that the two parties — and to some extent the American people — have gone deep into the idea that there are two teams in this country. ... To the point where, in Congress, they would rather win than solve problems, oftentimes. And they will come as close as you can get to really, really messing things up in order to win."

On the Congress of 2013 and beyond

"As far as a way forward, it's going to take mutual pain, mutual sacrifice. And until the two teams — the two parties and everyone else in America — is willing to come forward and take a look at pragmatic solutions that affect everyone, then I don't see how we get much done."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. We're heading into the month of August, which is famous here in the nation's capital for being hot and also, relatively quiet. Lawmakers are all heading home to their districts for the August recess. Last summer, though, things were not so calm. A year ago at this time, Congress was in a nasty and protracted battle over whether to raise the debt ceiling. It's a fight that cost Congress its already waning public support, and cost American taxpayers $1.3 billion. NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook joins us for a trip down memory lane and also, a look ahead. Andrea, welcome.

ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: And Andrea - I mean, a year ago, a lot of people remember Congress was just in this epic battle over whether the United States government could raise its debt ceiling. And if they didn't make a decision, the government was going to go into default. I mean, remind us how they avoided the worst.

SEABROOK: Well, Congress came up with an incredibly - sort of byzantine plan; where the two sides would handcuff themselves to each other, and jump off a cliff together. In other words, they would say: We are going to come up with a solution - or else. And the "or else" was a massive cut to both the military and social spending. And the thing that was going to come up with the solution, was the supercommittee. You remember the supercommittee?

GREENE: I do. That word came up a lot here.

SEABROOK: Yeah. You remember what came out of the supercommittee?

GREENE: Remind us.

SEABROOK: Nothing. It fizzled out. Nothing happened. And what we are left with now is this sword of Damocles, that they hung over their own heads - which is, these massive cuts. And it all takes place automatically, at the beginning of 2013.

GREENE: For those cuts to not go in place, Congress needs to do something now.

SEABROOK: Yes. Yes. They either have to come up with some other way to make those cuts, or repeal the whole thing altogether.

GREENE: I mean, is there any hope for them coming up with a deal to solve this problem, but before the election?

SEABROOK: There is no chance. I will go out on a limb and say, there is no chance that this will happen before the election. At this point, everything is so partisan, and so revolving around November, that everyone is expecting this huge number of big problems to be solved in the six weeks between the election and the end of the year. I mean, it's just an avalanche coming at the government.

GREENE: Well, let's look forward even more - beyond the election, into the Congress of 2013. This institution, Americans have such little faith in Congress right now, according to polls. I mean, is something fundamentally wrong?

SEABROOK: What is wrong is that the two parties - and to some extent, the American people - have gone deep into the idea that there are two teams in this country. There's a red team, and there's a blue team. And you are either a red-team person or a blue-team person; to the point where in Congress, they would rather win than solve problems, oftentimes, and they will come as close as you can get to really, really messing things up in order to win. Everything - it's constant brinksmanship between red and blue. And as far as the way forward, it's going to take mutual pain, mutual sacrifice. And until the two teams - the two parties - and everyone else in America, is willing to come forward and take a look at pragmatic solutions that affect everyone, then I don't see how we get much done.

GREENE: Andrea, your voice is very familiar to our listeners as our congressional correspondent. We're sad to say, this is your last day in that role. We know you're going on to some exciting new projects. And best of luck to you. But we're going to miss your voice in that role.

SEABROOK: Thank you, David. Thank you so much.

GREENE: Thanks for coming in.

SEABROOK: It has been a privilege to work for NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.