King Solomon and the Debt Deal
Morna Murray (Former Staff)Federal Budget
Remember the classic Old Testament story that demonstrates the true nature of maternal love – concern for the child, over and above herself? King Solomon was faced with deciding which of two women claimed to be the “real” mother of a baby. Both presented compelling arguments, and there was no way to prove who was telling the truth by their words alone. So King Solomon offered to cut the baby in half, so that each woman could at least get “half” a baby. One woman said that would be just fine. The other, horrified, told King Solomon to give the baby to the other woman.
King Solomon, satisfied that the real mother was now revealed, gave the child to the woman who was willing to give him up to save his life.
And so we come to Washington, living out this biblical parable to the bitter end of a debt negotiation that Vice President Biden likened to negotiating with a gun to one’s head . With a debt limit/budget deal that will be carefully dissected and roundly criticized in the days to come, President Obama faced a choice that was just about as difficult as King Solomon’s. Allow the country to default, risking domestic and global economic crisis – or give in to demands from a small group of radical ideologues that now controls the U.S. House of Representatives.
As this group of recently elected officials crows about its power to control the debate in Washington, and as criticism mounts about what has been given up in order to reach an accord, it is not unreasonable to ask, what exactly could the President and Democrats – and other reasonable lawmakers – have done differently?
Monday morning quarterbacks are always cocksure of what should have been done. The President should have been involved sooner, the President should never have linked debt negotiations to spending cuts, the President should have insisted on revenue raising measures before agreeing to any final deal.
Except – the President, and Democrats, did all these things. Even Speaker Boehner was ready to compromise on some of these issues. But not the small group of radical ideologues who now control the U.S. House of Representatives. They were ready to cut the baby in half. In fact, some of them seemed to look forward to it.
As Lawrence O’Donnell, former chief of staff of the Senate Finance Committee and current MSNBC talk show host, has pointed out on many occasions, several House idealogues seem not to know the difference between politics and governing. And that is a dangerous thing for our country.
I do not like the debt deal. I am enormously concerned, gravely concerned, as a children’s advocate and former Senate staffer, that it will place children’s programs, and particularly programs that serve disadvantaged children, at risk. Our children are our future. Any action that purports to reduce the deficit by placing children at risk is foolhardy. It is morally wrong and it will cost us more in the long run to treat the deficits these children will carry into adulthood. Those of us who work to protect children have our work cut out for us as this deal is implemented.
But my concern about the potential implications of this deal does not blind me to the impossible – and yes, dangerous – conditions that House idealogues were blithely willing to impose upon our country. They were willing to cut the baby in half. And the adults in the room were left with no choice but to give up a lot in order to keep that child alive. Like any good mother. Like anyone who understands the difference between partisan posturing politics and governing a country.