Debt showdown unites Americans - in frustration
The wrangling over the debt ceiling has left Congress bitterly divided, but it fostered some common ground among Americans elsewhere — notably cynicism, anger and frustration.
Brad Parker, who runs the hardware store at the farmers' co-op in Waverly, Neb., said he was fed up with lawmakers who seemed unwilling to compromise as the economic threat loomed.
"They've been saying they were hired to do this," Parker said. "No. No. The voters did not hire you to be morons."
Tom Sanders, a financial planner from Albany, Ga., predicted lawmakers from both parties could suffer electoral consequences.
"It's not going to be good for them when the election comes around in the fall," he said. "I think America is tired of their way of doing business up there."
Interviewed during a visit to Memphis, Tenn., Sanders said the crisis caused him to worry about the welfare of his 87-year-old aunt, for whom Social Security checks are vital.
"I don't care about their political infighting, about who gets the upper hand at the end of the day," he said. "I just want my aunt taken care of. I couldn't do that because of what they were doing up there, and that's wrong."
A national poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center reinforced such sentiments. It found a broad public consensus that the recent showdowns and negotiations could be summed up in words such as "ridiculous," ''disgusting" and "stupid."
Nationwide, according to Pew, 72 percent of the poll respondents described the recent negotiations in negative terms, while only 2 percent had a positive view and 11 percent were neutral. The disgust level was constant across the political spectrum.
Don McGowan, 50, of North Little Rock, Ark., was anything but lukewarm as he chastised President Barack Obama and congressional leaders from both parties.
"It's ridiculous, there's not an individual in the House of Representatives or the Senate that needs to be there anymore," he said. "Nobody can work with each other. Everybody wants to be finger-pointing."
In Boston, 33-year-old Jason Tack described himself as "Republican by nature" but was bipartisan with his disdain.
"Neither side comes out looking good in this," he said. "This is nothing but a clown show in Washington."
Bob Shediac, 69, a retired banker from Stoneham, Mass., said he resented the scare tactics by both parties.
"The Republicans are trying to make fools of the Democrats and Obama did the same thing," he said. "Obama has compromised his principles to get this deal."
The agreement would cut at least $2.4 trillion from federal spending over a decade, while allowing the country to avoid a first-ever debt default and extending the Treasury's authority to borrow beyond the 2012 elections. Further potentially wrenching decisions on spending cuts lie ahead, and Democrats were unable to get any firm commitments from Republicans to offset the cuts with tax increases.
"Personally, I think we need to reduce the deficit," said Brad Parker, the Nebraska hardware store operator. "But it should never have come to this. I understand that the tea party people want to take care of it while they have the chance, but this may have been the stupidest thing on earth. It's like, 'OK, let's totally destroy the economy because we're not getting what we want.'"
Shasone King, 30, a marketing consultant in Nashville, also expressed frustration with the tea party movement's role in the crisis.
"They're throwing this country's financial future in jeopardy just to defy a president, and that's what gets me fired up," said King, who considers himself an independent. "We can't treat our federal government like an NFL lockout."
Patrick Lucey, 25, of West Grove, Pa., doubted that developments in Washington would ease the long-term financial burden on his generation.
"I'll be paying bills, student loans, a mortgage for the next 30 years," he said. "I'm not going to let this bring me down. It's one more thing I'll owe. When you're born, you start owing."
Among the dozens of people interviewed about the debt showdown by Associated Press reporters, lawyer Gregory Wesley of Milwaukee was one of the few to sound a positive note, suggesting that America's often messy political system is still preferable to many others.
"It works for us without us resorting to violence and genocide and killing people and all those things," he said. "People just have to have a little perspective. Historically politics in this country has been a lot tougher and a lot worse than it is now."
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tenn.; Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Neb.; Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; Mark Pratt in Boston; Janet McMillan in Philadelphia and Lucas Johnson in Nashville, Tenn.