Debt Default Date Rapidly Approaches

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June 29, 2011

Gail Russell Chaddock, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, warns that the House and Senate are only in session at the same time on nine occasions between now and August 2, the date that the United States will default on its debt unless Congress raises the debt ceiling.  Chaddock is concerned that there is “not a lot of time left for Republicans and Democrats to come to terms” on a solution to the nation’s fiscal issues.  From the article:

The House opted this year to take a week off before the July 4 holiday, and the Senate takes a break after. This House is off again for another work period back in member districts the week of July 1; the Senate stays is in town, and so on…

But critics charge that the out-of-sync congressional calendars are not conducive to getting things done in Washington, especially with an impending debt crisis.

Chaddock points out that most members of Congress will not be involved in the negotiations to increase the debt ceiling.  That means that when a deal is worked out, “there remains the formidable job of rallying members to agree to it.”  Chaddock argues that lawmakers need more time in Washington working with colleagues and moving toward a consensus “that is sure to require tough choices and votes.”  She concludes:

In the end, the deal can be cut with the vast majority of 535 lawmakers out of the room, but it can’t be approved without them. To move a House and Senate far apart on taxes, spending, and entitlements, it helps to be there.

Teachers could use this article in a discussion about Congressional responsibilities guided by the following questions:  Where should members of Congress spend the majority of their time?  Does that change when an important issue arises?  Should lawmakers be at home talking with constituents or in Washington working with their Congressional colleagues?  Do you agree or disagree with Chaddock’s implication that nine days is not enough time to reach an agreement on the debt ceiling?  Do you think Congress will schedule additional sessions concerning this issue?  Why or why not?

As the August 2 debt default date approaches, students should be encouraged to observe the number of times Congress meets, and the progress made during those sessions.  As the two parties work toward a solution, students could revisit their answers to the aforementioned questions to see if their opinions have changed.

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