The country held its breath this week over what could have been the most colossal loss of American prestige in this country’s history: default on our outstanding debt. The US federal debt, which now stands at over $14 trillion is buoyed by congressional fiat: our nation’s legislators vote each year to raise the cap on the amount of debt this country is allowed to carry.
“Wow, that’s pretty great,” a Newarker said to me recently. “I’m going to call up my credit card companies and tell them that I’m going to raise my debt ceiling, too.” Pretty apt analogy, except this man isn’t a sovereign nation, let alone the one upon which the global economy hangs like a rosetta stone.
The congressional approval of a risen debt ceiling were legislative mechanics that, I think, few in their heart-of-hearts would have assumed was unlikely to occur — save for some breathless on-air commentators and some back-room negotiators keeping score. No, it was going to happen eventually. Our legislators appear, at times, to have totally lost their marbles, but they wouldn’t — couldn’t — have risked the loss of American economic prestige (leaving China or some other nation to pick up the slack in our short-sighted absence) just to make a point about fiscal responsibility.
But, economic brinksmanship on a national stage certainly provided a healthy bargaining chip with which to make decisions which, I’m sure we’ll find out in due time, benefit very few.
Meantime, here in Newark, the city has seen a rash of gun violence (up 40% — you read that right — over this time last year) that most recently claimed the life of two of Newark’s finest. One, an Essex county corrections officer, found on Halsey Street outside a police social club, suffering from what would later become a fatal gunshot wound. The other, one of Newark’s success stories, a young teacher born and raised in the city to become an honors student and a Fairleigh Dickinson grad, here for a brief visit which ended her life.
The national political posturing had nothing to do with these twin tragedies — and perhaps that’s the point. While the matter of our national fiscal health is critical to the health of our country (and, in turn, our cities), one can’t help but feel as though congress spent the last few weeks vacationing from governing the people and solving real problems to play high-stakes poker with our future.