If MA Were Facing the Equivalent of a Debt Ceiling Crisis, Our Leaders Would Leap to Solve It

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

President Obama addressed the nation last night to drum up support for his position on increasing the debt ceiling and was immediately followed on the air by House Speaker John Boehner.

The two parties remain stuck in their places, far from a compromise, while the time to resolve the issue slips away: the federal government will begin to default on its debt on Tuesday, August 2 if a solution cannot be found.

Reacting to last night's dueling debt ceiling speeches, David Frum, a conservative polemicist and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, tweeted: "If nothing else, we're getting a good real-life poli-sci lesson as to why so few other democracies have adopted U.S. separation of powers idea."

Point well taken.

In a parliamentary system, the head of government, the prime minister, is the head of the party that has a majority in parliament. That majority has no interest in making their own leader look bad, whereas the opposite is the case with Obama and the Republican majority in the U.S. House.

Boehner has Democratic roots way back in Ohio but he seems to be taking his cues from the uber-Republican in Washington, Mitch "Machiavelli" McConnell of Kentucky, leader of the minority in the U.S. Senate, who said from the beginning of the Obama administration that his main job was to make sure Obama was a one-term president.

In a parliamentary system, the majority party knows that if it doesn't solve a national problem as serious and as scary as the debt ceiling, it will lose its majority in the next election and its leader will lose the prime ministership. There's no better incentive for problem-solving in a democracy.

Contrast that with the incentive Republicans have to deprive Obama of anything that looks like a victory on the debt ceiling: the worse he looks, the stronger the entire Republican ticket will be in 2012.

This would all be tremendously entertaining, from the standpoint of political theater, were it not for the fact that a federal default could actually wreck the fragile U.S. economy. This is a genuine catastrophe-in-the-making. We're talking the potential ruination of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American families.

Here's where I'll put a plug in for good old one-party Massachusetts, the home of the veto-proof Democrats of House and Senate fame, the state that recently rewarded its Democratic governor with a second term.

There are problems, of course, in having one party control both branches of a legislature and the governor's office to boot. But when such a state is confronting a fundamental threat, those problems will not usually include boundless dithering, posturing and cynicism.

When you are the only show in town, you own every problem in town. Voters know your name is on the deed.

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