Step by Step

July 11, 2011 - 3:57 AM

The highly anticipated Sunday evening meeting to hammer out a deal on the debt limit among the Administration and the Republican and Democratic leadership in the U.S. House and Senate took place and the main result is they will meet again this afternoon at two.

It is important to remember that these sorts of things are a process. Just as most of us can't go up a flight of stairs in one step from the bottom to the top, a major undertaking like this has to go one - or maybe two - steps at a time.

While the process of going from one step to the next is going on, it is useful to remember the goal: Get to the top.

The three major players are the President of the United States, Barack Obama; the Speaker of the House, John Boehner; and, the Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner.

The supporting cast, Vice President Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi; and the Senate leadership, Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are on stage, but they are the backup singers doing the whoop-whoops, and the yeah-yeahs, when the musical score calls for them to chime in.

In the audience, prepared to drown out the principals if they don't like the tune, are the 84 Republican House freshmen.

They were elected in the wake of the thunderous, Wagnerian spending of Obama's first two years and they are not about to go home for the August recess and suffer the slings and arrows their Democratic predecessors had to dodge in August 2009 when they were blindsided by Tea Partiers demanding an explanation of the still unwritten Obama health care plan.

Speaker John Boehner has been around the track. He's been in the majority and the minority; been a backbencher and been in the leadership. He may not know the exact number of votes he can get on a debt limit deal; but he has a keen sense of where his Conference is heading and it is not heading toward a deal which will include an increase in tax rates.

The President is in the weaker position. He has to get a deal done because it is the Executive Branch of the U.S. government which has to pay the government's bills. Boehner doesn't have to write a single check.

There were some, this weekend, who were attempting to find a parallel between the shutdown battle between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in 1996 and this struggle to find a solution to our debt problems.

No one thinks this is a test of wills between two egos the size of the Milky Way. This is a battle between two ideologies: Reducing the deficit by increasing the Federal share of income -- increasing taxes; or reducing the deficit by reducing the amount of money the Federal government spends.

The current issues are not as easy to distill as "Gingrich v Clinton," but given what we're seeing in the European Union: Greece, Ireland, Portugal and this weekend, Italy, how we solve this may be far more reaching not just here, but throughout the global economy.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is the comic relief in all this. As we have discussed previously, if he'd stuck to his original estimate that we needed to deal with the debt limit by the end of March, it would have been dealt with. But, to show his Wall Street pals how deft on the debt he could be, he announced we really had until August 2.

Then, about a week ago, he let it be known that he wanted to return to New York so he became a rare self-made lame duck. That being the case, everyone knows they will have to deal with the next Treasury Secretary and Geithner is reduced to sitting on the floor, cross legged, juggling and doing card tricks to the amusement of the major players.

Nancy Pelosi's job is pretending to know how many votes she has but not telling Boehner. I suspect that when it comes down to it the Republicans will lose a significant number on the Right; the Democrats will lose some on the Left but there will be the required 218 votes to make whatever deal Boehner and Obama come up with.

Boehner and Obama didn't get it done Sunday evening, and they won't get it done this afternoon. But as long as they are making progress they will reach the landing at the top of the stairs and find an acceptable solution.

Step by step.

On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the House freshman class, and the very real impending crisis with Italy's debt. Also a Mullfoto I've been trying to get for years and a Catchy Caption of the Day -- a chart of the unemployment rate since June, 2010.