Apr 19, 2019

Political stalemate: debt ceiling looms

Fresno State has largely avoided the effects of the government shutdown but concern about the political stalemate has reached the campus.

As a result of the shutdown, cadets from Fresno State’s Army ROTC had their annual fall training event canceled, said ROTC administrative assistant Nancy Kobata.

The cadets created a new training plan, Kobata said, with the help of multiple departments on campus.

The starting point will be the North Gym, and cadets will go on a three-mile rucksack march through the agriculture fields around the campus. Then the cadets will be put through a series of challenges that will end with a final “Bulldog Mile.”

“Rather than accept this challenge as an obstacle, these agile, adaptive and creative problem solvers displayed their phenomenal leadership ability by turning it into an opportunity to excel,” Kobata said.

For problem solvers in Washington, D.C., there seems to be some movement in the political tectonic plates. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives offered Thursday a short-term increase in the government’s debt ceiling.

Some consider it a sign that the White House and Congress may be ready to enter productive talks to solve the nation’s fiscal pending crisis.

“Behind the scenes there seems to have been a lot of changes,” said Dr. Thomas Holyoke, a political science associate professor at Fresno State.  “Increasingly, Republicans are being blamed for the shutdown.  People are mad at everyone, but they are really mad at Republicans.

“They may not have a way out of this without completely capitulating. [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid refused to negotiate if they don’t fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, which has become part of the debate.”

A new offer from Republican leaders would suspend the debt limit for six weeks but does not appear to include reopening parts of the government that have been closed since Oct. 1.

The White House said President Barack Obama would sign a bill extending the government’s borrowing authority for a short period of time, as long as it did not include other proposals from Republicans.

“If a clean debt-limit bill is passed, he would likely sign it,” press secretary Jay Carney said.

Obama still wants Congress to also vote to reopen the government, Carney said. But he did not say the two measures had to come together.

House Republican leaders were scheduled to meet with Obama at the White House late Thursday afternoon, the first time since the shutdown began the two sides have engaged in serious dialogue.

“Some slight shifts have occurred,” Holyoke said.  “The Republicans in the House say they want to negotiate over spending priorities without mentioning the Affordable Care Act.  It’s a significant change.  It was supposedly all about Obamacare, and they seem to have given up on that.”

The drive behind the latest compromise offer came from House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who proposed a debt-ceiling plan that would require lawmakers to find ways to make significant budget cuts.

“If Mr. Obama decides to talk, he’ll find that we actually agree on some things,” Ryan wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece Wednesday. “For example, most of us agree that gradual, structural reforms are better than sudden, arbitrary cuts.”

Senate Democrats have offered an alternative that would increase the debt limit for a year with no “political strings.” A test vote is expected Saturday.

The White House stressed that it also wants the government reopened.

Whatever the compromise, it needs to come soon as Holyoke noted the “looming” prospect of the Treasury defaulting on its debts would be crippling.

“If Congress does not raise the amount of money the government can borrow, the Treasury will default,” Holyoke said.  “That would be an economic catastrophe.  Who would ever want to lend money to us again if we show we are a deadbeat?”

Holyoke said a small number of Republicans are trying to say that defaulting would not be a major issue.

“That is wishful thinking on their part,” Holyoke said.  “They are trying to convince themselves, but it would be disastrous.  The treasury secretary explained why it’s bad to Congress and the Republican leaders know it would be.”

In the end, he said it’s not likely that a “winner” will emerge from the political fight.

“They’re all going to lose somewhat, but some will lose more than others,” Holyoke said.  “The Tea Party and its allies in the House of Representatives are getting the most blame.”

McClatchy Washington Bureau reporters David Lightman and Lesley Clark contributed to this article

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