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.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site More

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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs