Debt ceiling about to fall

Frankly, this is about as dysfunctional a federal government as America has had since ... well, maybe ever.

There was some hope that a plan for lowering the nation's debt that was outlined by the Senate Gang of Six -- three Democrats and three Republicans, including Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Moultrie -- would lead to an end to the impasse on the federal debt limit that has the potential to shut down some federal services and place the nation's AAA bond rating in jeopardy.

The line has been drawn deeply in the sand -- Grand Canyon deep.

So far, the House Republican leadership and Senate Democratic leadership have each presented plans that have no chance of passing both houses, and President Obama said Tuesday he'd veto the GOP plan if it made it to his desk, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said wasn't going to happen anyway.

Democrats want a debt ceiling increase of $2.4 trillion that would include $2.7 trillion in federal spending cuts if -- and this is a big if -- the wars end in Afghanistan and Iraq. The plan doesn't include increased tax revenues that Obama wants, but he is backing that Senate plan.

The House proposal would increase the debt limit by $1 trillion in time for Tuesday's deadline and cut spending by $1.2 trillion. That would be followed by a recommendation by a committee of lawmakers on another $1.8 trillion in spending cuts next year that would trigger a second $1.6 trillion increase in the debt ceiling.

Even so, the House plan, which has few, if any, friends on the Democratic side of the aisle may not have enough votes in Speaker John Boehner's own Republican Party to make it out of the House, much less pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Meanwhile, the federal government faces default on its debts Tuesday if a resolution hasn't been reached before then.

The Democrats and Republicans are driving straight at each other in a reckless game of chicken, with Democrats refusing to swerve to the right and Republicans just as obstinate about veering left.

Still, you have to wonder whether these lawmakers are more concerned about the country or their political clout. The most important number here might not be $2.4 trillion or $1.8 trillion or any other with a dollar sign. The number at issue most may well be 2012.

That's because the Democrats' plan would result in Congress not having to again consider the debt ceiling issue, one that is political divisive as any these days, until 2013 -- after the presidential elections next fall.

The Republicans' plan would require another debt ceiling vote next year, just about the time that the political season gets rolling.

If a 2012 vote takes place, we just think we've seen gridlock on this issue.

There's no doubt that a government that borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends can't continue at that pace. America has to get control of this debt issue, and it will take a plan like the blueprint developed by the Gang of Six to accomplish that.

But Congress also has an trust problem. When deals have been struck that called for spending cuts later, those spending cuts never seemed to develop. It's unfortunate that the Gang of Six's debt reduction plan left so much up to Congress to determine.

Lawmakers have little stomach for telling constituents what they don't want to hear -- that services will be less, but they'll cost more.

So, here we are. The clock is ticking down, and the wisdom of Solomon is nowhere to be found.