'The market is saying, 'We need a deal here ...' Default is starting to seep into the marketplace." This comes from a financial analyst to members of Congress.
Well, it's come to this: The world is watching us destroy our good name and credit over the promise of cutting a few billion dollars in future budgets and appropriations. The two bills before Congress -- one proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the other proposed by House Speaker John Boehner -- are similar to the point that compromise should be obvious, yet even at this late hour partisan politics is hampering negotiations.
It's no longer a matter of Democrats and Republicans coming to the table and working together. As of now, the House Republicans can't forge an agreement among themselves. President Obama has ruled out using the so-called "constitutional option" -- raising the debt ceiling without congressional authorization. We're in a stalemate with days to go before the Aug. 2 deadline, when the United States can no longer pay its bills.
Boehner may yet pull together the 217 votes necessary to pass a bill that could be sent to the Senate in time to avert a major economic crisis. But Reid will have to make the bill palatable to his caucus before it can be passed and sent to the president's desk for his signature.
Because both leaders agree, or have come close to agreeing, on the spending cuts needed to get votes from the tea party Republicans in both chambers, what's holding up the deal now? Yep, you guessed it: good old-fashion politics.
The major difference between Reid's and Boehner's bills is how high each raises the debt ceiling. Boehner's bill contains a short-term increase that will raise this issue again before the end of the year.
Reid's bill raises the debt ceiling past the 2012 elections and, importantly, refuses to make cuts that hurt the poor or raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. This makes sense. Let voters decide in 2012 how best to balance the budget down the road.
Yet Boehner is still vigorously whipping up the GOP -- including a furious group of tea party freshmen -- to support his bill. To get his troops in line, the House had to resort to showing Hollywood film clips of "The Town," in which Ben Affleck's character says, "We're gonna hurt some people." The character is talking physical hurt -- baseball bats and stuff. This was intended, apparently, to stir primal feeling among the caucus so they can steel themselves to the damage steep spending cuts do to some of the most vulnerable Americans.
As I write this, it's still not clear whether he has the votes. Boehner aspired to be House speaker for most of his political life. Now that he's attained his goal, he finds he can barely control his troops. "Get you're a-- in line!" he reportedly barked to the Republican caucus this week.
Many of the tea party Republicans not only openly ignore Boehner, but there is also open talk of replacing him as speaker. So bad is the dissent within the ranks that conservative staff of the Republican Study Group were sending out emails lobbying outside conservative groups to oppose their own leader's bill.
The power of his position notwithstanding, Boehner puzzlingly capitulated early on in these negotiations, walking away from the negotiating table with the president and turning the reigns over to his second-in-command, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. As Boehner was working one-on-one with President Obama to forge a bipartisan debt deal, Cantor shot it down publicly. Tea party Republicans wouldn't stand for it, apparently. From that point, Boehner sat silently while Cantor took the lead.
Cantor tried his rigidly partisan method, and the president pushed back. Obama told Cantor, "Don't call my bluff," and warned that he'd "take this to the American people."
Frankly, it should never have come to this. The Democratic leadership should have raised the national debt limit when they had the votes to do it last fall. However, who could have anticipated the "Law of Unintended Consequences" of the Republican Party begging to govern and then allowing those who hate government to call the shots?
But this is crunch time, folks. It's OK to have political principles.
There's nothing wrong with party affiliation or lack thereof. But the country deserves better from all our political leaders. Voters can decide for themselves in November 2012 whether Obama has delivered on his campaign priorities. They will also get to decide whether the Republicans have delivered on their campaign promises. But right now everyone in America needs to stop thinking about the next election and focus on the ticking clock to default.
What is lost in all this macho play is the welfare of the country -- and the safety net that protects her most vulnerable citizens.
We deserve better.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, and a contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.