Congress has until Tuesday to raise the debt ceiling so the U.S. can pay its bills. If the capacity to borrow money isn't increased the nation will be in default on its loans for the first time in its history.
In years past, Congress has routinely increased the debt ceiling. And perhaps that's the problem. Allowing the debt limit to increase without having a difficult discussion about cutting spending, raising revenue or both has made it too easy to allow the national debt to soar.
However, this latest deadline to raise the debt limit is seen as an opportunity for conservatives in Congress to press the point the United States needs to put an end to annual deficit spending and start paying down the debt.
We generally agree. And, frankly, the conservatives -- mostly Republicans -- made their point well. They put the hard press on the White House and the leaders of the Democrat-controlled Senate. Earlier this week the Senate leadership ceded to almost all of the demands being made by the Republican-controlled House -- including at least $2 trillion in spending cuts without raising taxes. No, it wasn't complete capitulation but it was close.
Democrats wanted to raise the debt ceiling to a point where the issue wouldn't have to be addressed again until, well, after the 2012 election. The issue of adopting a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution wasn't something Democrats wanted to discuss.
All sides dug in and held dueling press conferences.
Meanwhile, those of us outside of the U.S. Capitol have become increasingly nervous -- even angry. The Capitol has been flooded with phone calls and emails from conservatives, liberals and moderates.
After all, if the debt ceiling isn't raised by Tuesday the U.S. economy could plunge back into a recession -- even a depression. The stock market could plummet (and take our retirement savings along with it), jobs will be lost and the road to economic recovery could be a long and bumpy one.
This game of chicken being played in Washington, D.C., must end before the nation is destroyed.
Those who are taking the hard line on debt reduction are not necessarily wrong on the issue. It's clear we, as a nation, must get government debt under control.
But ruining the economy isn't going to advance that goal, it's going to set it back years.
It's time for the Republicans, who appear to be in a position of strength, to accept victory and spare the country deep economic pain.
And then both parties need to work together to approve a long-term sensible plan to eventually put an end to deficit spending and then take steps to ensure borrowing is kept under control in the future. This might involve laws or even a constitutional amendment.
But first things first. Action is needed now to avert default.