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Debt ceiling debacle highlights Democrat-Republican dysfunctionality

by Damon Eris, published

Despite their reservations and concerns, many Americans are undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief following the seemingly manufactured crisis that finally allowed passage of a last minute deal to yet again raise the nation’s debt ceiling.  The professional partisans of the Democratic and Republican parties, on the other hand, continue to hyperventilate. 

Americans do not appear impressed by the results of the debt ceiling negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders in the Democratic and Republican parties. A CNN poll (.pdf) conducted on Monday gauging public opinion on the bipartisan agreement reached over the weekend found that Americans disapprove of the plan 52% to 44%. Indeed, a slim majority of 51% disapproved of the fact that the debt ceiling was raised at all.  While Independents and Republicans opposed raising the debt ceiling by fairly wide margins (61% and 64% respectively), Democrats were generally much more supportive, with 74% giving their stamp of approval. 

Respondents across partisan lines were much more supportive of the spending cuts included in the agreement.  72% of Republicans, 68% of Democrats, 60% of Independents favored cuts that would reduce government spending by around one trillion dollars over the next ten years. 

In the weeks leading up to the Tuesday deadline, the President stressed over and over again that he supported a “balanced approach” that would both cut spending and raise taxes.  However, the final plan does not include any tax increases for big business or high income earners.  60% of respondents disapproved of the fact that spending cuts were not paired with any such tax code reforms, including 77% of Democrats and 59% of Independents.  Republicans, on the other hand, were overwhelmingly supportive of this aspect of the agreement: 61% approved while 39% disapproved. 

Among Democrats and Republicans, perceptions of how the President and congressional leaders of both parties dealt with the debt negotiations are falling out along predictable partisan lines.  Democrats strongly approved of the way President Obama and congressional Democrats handled the process, while Republicans strongly disapproved.  On the other hand, Republicans strongly approved of the way congressional Republicans handled the negotiations, while Democrats held the opposite view. 

Independents, however, disapproved of the way the process was handled by all parties to the process.  58% disapproved of President Obama’s handling of the crisis, 69% disapproved of congressional Republicans' negotiating strategy and 71% disapproved of the way Democratic leaders in Congress comported themselves throughout. 

These results are not surprising given that, unlike Democrats and Republicans, Independents have virtually no representation in the Congress.  This simple, glaring fact did not go unnoticed by cable news media, which typically exclude Independents from their debates and discussions.  CNN’s Don Lemon, for instance, invited a number of Independent activists onto his program to discuss the marginalization of Independents over the course of the rancorous debt ceiling negotiations.  Lemon even went so far as to basically admit the mainstream media’s complicity in this state of affairs, introducing the segment by noting that the Independent panel, which included Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice, Nicole Neily of the Independent Women’s Forum and Professor Omar Ali, had not been invited onto the program since February 2010.

     “There’s lots of talk about the extremes dominating the debt limit debate, so where’s the independent voice in all of this?” asked Lemon. “The Independent voice is getting edged out as the center is clearly under attack,” said Gandelman. “We’ve been left out of the process for so long because both sides have been able to buy votes,” said Neily.  “It’s not getting any better,” she concluded, despite being encouraged by the fact that there were no earmarks under consideration in the deal.

The bipartisan agreement has certainly not created more amicable relations between the partisans of the major parties. In recent days, Democratic party ideologues have compared Republicans to terrorists and Republican party ideologues have wished Democrats to hell.

“Voters may have chosen divided government but they sure didn’t vote for dysfunctional government,” said the President yesterday.  With each passing day, it seems to become more and more evident that a vote for Democrats and Republicans is indeed a vote for dysfunctional government, whether divided or not.  Is it any wonder that Americans are leaving the major parties in droves?