News / USA

    Key Vote Looms in US Amid Polarized Political Atmosphere

    Republican Representative Daniel Webster talks about the current fiscal budget during a crowded town hall meeting in Orlando, Florida, April 26, 2011
    Republican Representative Daniel Webster talks about the current fiscal budget during a crowded town hall meeting in Orlando, Florida, April 26, 2011

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Sometime during the next several weeks, the U.S. Congress will take up the issue of raising the nation's debt ceiling so that the United States can continue to borrow money to cover a national debt that will soon soar past $14 trillion.  The debate over raising the debt ceiling comes amid a highly polarized political atmosphere here in Washington.

    The debt ceiling vote will be a high-stakes political showdown with national and international implications.

    U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that failing to raise the debt limit would lead to the United States defaulting on its loans, and he says that would be catastrophic.

    Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Democrat Kent Conrad, spoke on the "Fox News Sunday" television program.

    "This is a defining moment and we have got to decide as a nation," said Conrad.  "Are we going to do some things that all of us would prefer not to have to do or do we wait for the roof to cave in?"

    Many Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling, arguing that it is time to force the United States to stop what they see as a cycle of excessive spending and borrowing.  They say that any effort to increase the debt limit must be linked to deeper budget cuts.

    Several of these Republicans won the support of Tea Party activists in last year's midterm congressional elections, and the Tea Party supporters are demanding that the lawmakers keep their word to cut the size of government or face their wrath in the next election.

    Political analysts say all of this has led to a hyperpartisan political environment in Washington, one that former Senator Bob Bennett says he knows all too well.

    "Well right now, if you look at it superficially, the town is really messed up," Bennett.  "And we are headed towards the question of whether or not we honor our obligations and pay our bills, or refuse to ideologically because that is the real impact of the vote on raising the debt ceiling."

    Bennett is a Republican who was defeated in his bid for a fourth term at a party convention in his home state of Utah last year by more conservative opponents.

    The partisan atmosphere that pervades Washington could make it difficult for Republicans and Democrats to reach a compromise - not only on raising the debt ceiling, but also in finding common ground on the federal budget for next year.

    Mickey Edwards is a former Republican Representative from Oklahoma and a veteran of numerous partisan battles in Washington.  He retired from Congress after the 1992 elections and has spent several years in academia, including his current position at the Aspen Institute here in Washington.

    "Party dominance now, party victories in the next election are so important that you have the two parties at war with each other all the time," said Edwards.  "The campaign just goes on and on, so it is always warfare.  And we are paying the price because if you are the enemy, I have to defeat you for me to be able to get anywhere.  It is really hard to sit down and compromise."

    At the heart of the debate over government spending is a deep divide over how the two major parties view the proper role of the central government.

    President Barack Obama and most of his fellow Democrats in Congress see the federal government as providing an essential safety net for the poor, the sick and the elderly.

    Republicans, fueled by the Tea Party movement, see the central government as too big and inefficient, and a hindrance to economic growth that would benefit all Americans.

    Despite the highly partisan political environment and his own defeat last year, former Senator Bennett says he is hopeful that both sides will come to an agreement on raising the debt limit.

    "Campaigning is a lot easier than governing," added Bennett.  "Campaigning leads you into the area of slogans rather than solutions.  And I think many of these folks are turning out to be more serious than we may have thought.  So I'm an optimist that we will raise the debt ceiling and that we will not default on our debts."

    Bennett's optimism seems out of sync with recent public opinion surveys that show about 70 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track and nearly two-thirds believe the nation is in decline.

    Members of Congress return to Washington next week after a two-week break.  During that time, many lawmakers will have held town meetings with voters and heard a lot about the debt ceiling, the budget and cutting government spending.


    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora