Shutdown, debt ceiling deal reached

On Wednesday Congress approved a bill to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling, but the root problem remains in the opinion of some in Washington, D.C. and at Fresno State.

 The Senate approved the proposal crafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on an 81-18 vote Wednesday night. About two hours later, the measure moved to the House of Representatives, where it was approved 285-144.

“We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said hours before the vote.

The concept of a winner and loser in this political fight, said Dr. Bruce Thornton, a professor of classics and humanities who has written on contemporary political issues, misses the more important issue that problems weren’t solved—they were postponed.

“Short term, we’d say the Democrats won because they didn’t have to change anything about Obamacare,” Thornton said. “The Democrats want to roll back the sequester.

“The shutdown was a stage.  The Democrats wanted to wound the Republicans, because no matter what the reality is, the mainstream is going to make them the obstructionists.  But you could make the case the Democrats were.”

While some members of Congress praised the effort to make a deal, Thornton said the threat of a default was never there.

“There was outright duplicity,” Thornton said.  “The government was not going to default.  If it did it was going to be a choice.  If they wanted to pay they would have found a way.  That was all political theater.”

McConnell said Republicans managed to preserve tenants of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which includes the mandatory domestic and defense cuts known as sequestration.

“This is far less than many of us had hoped for, frankly,” McConnell said. “But it’s far better than what some had sought. Now it’s time for Republicans to unite behind other crucial goals.”

The most important issue to reduce the debt is entitlement reform, Thornton said, specifically Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“What students need to know is this about entitlement reform, my generation ran up the tab and your generation is going to pay,” Thornton said. “The real thing is the sequestration because that’s at least one tiny step.  The point is you have to reform those big three entitlements.”

President Barack Obama, who spoke after the Senate vote, suggested his focus will return to a stalled immigration overhaul, passing a farm bill and the federal budget.

He took no questions but turned and said “No” when a reporter asked whether the deal meant he and Congress would be back in the same place in three months.

Under the deal, the government will be funded through Jan. 15 and the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling will be increased until Feb. 7.

A bipartisan House-Senate conference committee—co-chaired by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.—will work on larger budget issues. The committee will have until Dec. 13 to complete its work and report to Congress.

“We’re going to kick it down the road again because we have mid-term elections coming up, and no one wants to go on the record doing anything that will piss anyone off,” Thornton said. “Everyone is nibbling at the edges of the problem.”

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