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Debt debate no place for teenagers

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

Ruth Graham, the wife of evangelist Billy Graham, once was speaking before a large women's group about what it was like to be a minister's wife.

Mrs. Graham talked, of course, about the spiritual rewards of sharing her husband's ministry. She said it was tough for her, however, with her husband on the road so much on his crusades, leaving her with the bulk of duties of raising their children.

It was bad enough when the children were toddlers, Mrs. Graham said.

When they become teenagers, though, she really needed her husband's firm hand at home. They had had talks about that, she added.

During the question period, one woman asked Mrs. Graham whether she had ever considered divorcing her husband. "No!" Mrs. Graham shot back with a smile. "I have considered murder."

Notice Mrs. Graham's humorous homicidal feeling came in direct relation to having to deal with a household of teenagers. I think a lot of Americans feel the same way as they watch the sorry state of these debt-ceiling proceedings.

Only some of the people at the table in Washington are acting like grown-ups. Indeed, a guest on the "Charlie Rose" show suggested recently that President Obama is "the only adult in the room in that town."

This week, I took a long look at how the GOP leaders in Congress -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor -- have been acting in the talks, and I put two plus two together: President Obama has to try to govern a politically divided country while his opposition behaves like teenagers.

Acknowledging that we love our surly teenagers fully, and are proud of them, there are, at times, serious downsides to their behaviors. Let's list these adolescent impulses, dear reader:

- A teenager knows everything.

- To a teenager, everything that goes wrong is someone else's fault.

- A teenager refuses to accept that he can't have everything he wants.

- A teenager is never wrong.

- A teenager has an excuse for everything.

- A teenager shuns responsibility but demands to be trusted.

As the deadline approaches to raise the nation's debt ceiling, the Republican leadership is refusing to compromise. As a result, two major financial-rating companies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's, have put the United States on notice that they are reviewing our Triple-A rating for a possible downgrade.

The news brought an immediate slide in the value of the dollar. Things could be much worse if they downgrade America's creditworthiness. The world's financial markets are already on the brink over debt concerns in countries like Greece and Italy.

But back in Washington, D.C., lawmakers seem more interested in posturing for the TV cameras than honestly assessing the issues and coming up with a thoughtful plan that enables the country to get back on a sound fiscal footing.

Just as Speaker John Boehner was ready to shop a deal around to his caucus, one of his lieutenants pulled him from the bargaining table. Boehner was replaced as the Republican's chief negotiator with the whining, demanding Cantor -- who already walked out of earlier talks with Vice President Joe Biden.

Cantor sounds like a crabby teenager: He repeats and repeats and repeats his demands as if he's the commander in chief. He, not Boehner, does the talking. He lectures. He literally sneers. He talks as if he wrote the book, "Debt Ceiling for Dummies."

Get this: At the president's respectful urging and persuasion, Democratic congressional leaders have put entitlements on the chopping block, namely Social Security and Medicare. Not good enough, say McConnell and Cantor and some members of the tea party.

Their mantra is "Don't blame us, blame Obama." This need by some in the Republican Party to just blame Obama for everything has produced the worst kind of political gridlock, pouting and stubbornness, especially given the fact that both parties have enacted laws that must be paid for. The president understood this and proposed a $4 trillion debt-reduction package, two times what the GOP proposed, but its leaders balked and are now pushing for a deal that doesn't cut the debt by nearly as much.

Make no mistake: These talks are failing -- the world itself has been taken to the verge of financial collapse -- because McConnell and Cantor want their way in everything. Can you guess what the response is from these two teenagers?

A recent headline from RealClearPolitics tells it all. "McConnell to Obama: Debt limit fallout all yours." For them, this has always been about politics, and they don't want to take on the responsibility for a comprehensive deal.

How long must we put up with this immature obstructionism? How long must we have to deal with one budget impasse after another?

Eat your peas, guys.

Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, and a contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.