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Debt Ceiling, Credit Rating and Politics as Usual

US President Barak Obama asked for two things for his 50th birthday: a hamburger and a deal to raise the debt ceiling. He got both, but the burger was the easy part.

With the threat of government default looming, Republicans and Democrats went to war about how to fix the broken American budget. Spending more than they make every year, the United States has to borrow .40 of every dollar spent. A ‘debt ceiling’ (a maximum amount that the government can be in debt) is intended to keep that in check, but periodically has to be raised as government spending reach the limit.

In July of 2011, that ceiling was about to be breached. It was time for politicians to come to a new agreement. But with completely different ideas of how that should happen, Republicans and Democrats had a hard time compromising. At stake was not only the spending ability of the US government, but its sterling, triple-A credit rating.

Working until late the night before the quickly approaching August 2, 2011 deadline, those in Washington finally worked out a plan everyone could agree with. Spending will be cut by trillions of dollars. The debt limit was raised enough to get the country through the 2012 elections.

Fighting between the two political parties became heated as disagreements rose about how to handle the country’s financial crunch. Name-calling and finger-pointing became the norm for the several weeks of debate. Only when Senator Gabrielle Giffords arrived to cast her vote did the Senate unite, standing in a round of applause and tears to greet their fellow law-maker. It was Giffords’ first time back to Washington since she was shot in the head by a crazed constituent in January. Members from ‘both sides of the aisle’ (both Republicans and Democrats) rushed to greet her after her surprise appearance. After the vote, Giffords returned to intense physical therapy in Houston, TX.

While the legislation passed in time to avert financial disaster for the US, it did not happen quickly enough to save the country’s excellent credit rating. Standard & Poor, the financial services company that determines credit ratings, cited a “lack of appropriate willingness of elected officials as a group to deal with the United States medium fmanncial outlook” as cause for the downgrade.

Democrats and Republicans didn’t miss a beat in laying blame.

“I think they (the Tea Party) have been smoking some of the tea and not just drinking it,” said Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

Republicans were equally witty with their accusations. Said Lindsey Graham (R-SC) of Obama and his party, “What was hope and change is despair and confusion.”

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