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Friday, February 23, 2024

Debt deal brings anger, disgust from right & left

A demonstrator holds placards to protest U.S. debt in front of the Capitol in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

From the right and center: mild disgust. From the left: outright anger.

Americans showed a range of emotions and responses to the debt-limit deal President Barack Obama and top leaders of Congress struck Sunday, but few were positive. Except perhaps relief that the weeks of wrangling was finally over.

Phil Waters of Anchorage, Alaska, gave a variation of a common response.

“It should have happened a real long time ago,” said Waters, a 60-year-old semiretired helicopter mechanic as he sat inside Darwin’s Theory, a downtown Anchorage bar. “It never should have gotten this far out of hand.”

Waters, who described himself as an “almost Libertarian conservative,” said he would have liked to see a lot more cuts than the spending reductions Obama and House Speaker John Boehner agreed to.

But Kiran Mahto of Portland, Ore., who volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008, would have preferred no deal at all to the concessions he felt the president made to congressional Republicans.

Mahto, a 35-year-old managing editor who works in health care information technology, said the agreement is the latest in a long string of times Obama has disappointed him, and vowed it would be the last.

“I’m actively opposed to this president now. That also goes for his party since they’ve been silent through the whole ordeal,” said Mahto, who thinks the debt deal will lead to an Obama defeat in 2012. “Cutting the deficit will do nothing to get people jobs. Without jobs and without a liberal base, he will lose.”

The agreement would cut at least $2.4 trillion from federal spending over a decade, but allowed the country to avoid a first-ever debt default and extended the Treasury’s authority to borrow beyond the 2012 elections.

Even the outline of the agreement, much less the details, left those without strong feelings confused and frustrated.

Brett Piper, 34, and Matthew Crosby, 30, radiology residents visiting Silver Spring, Md., from Indianapolis for a conference felt that they have probably been paying more attention to the debate than most, but were still unsure how much they could really understand.

“It’s hard to know what to trust,” Piper said. “The issue is made so complicated that it’s tough for the average American to make sense of it.”

Crosby agreed.

“It just makes me mad,” he said. “I’m innately interested, but I just get frustrated.”

Piper said he is a Republican but doesn’t feel that he can trust the Republicans.

“It’s a political game,” Piper said. “And in this game, everyone looks bad.”

In Philadelphia, Patrick Lucey, 25, of West Grove, Pa., had to explain the debt ceiling crisis to his friend, Enzo Amara, 25, of Montpellier, France, who just sighed.

Lucey said he thinks the large federal deficit will definitely be a burden to young people like himself who will have to pay for government programs far into the future. But he was philosophical. “It’s something expected,” he said of the government deficit. “It’s not a surprise.”

“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.”

Others felt that even without grasping the details, they understood the deeper reality behind the deal.

“As long as these people let the oil companies and big business do what they do, nothing will change,” said taxi driver Harvey Philpot, 52, of North Philadelphia, Pa. “It’s all about big business.”

And Attorney John Trotman, 42, of Philadelphia, said “I feel like the debt ceiling became an issue because the Republicans turned it into one. It was an issue of creation. It was talking points for them. We’re headed toward an election and the Republicans want to get Obama.”

But there was also support for leaders hammering out the compromise.

Donald Price, a grocery store worker from Oxon Hill, Md., said he prays for the two sides in Congress to work together.

“I think they’re just doing the best they can do,” Price said. “We don’t know what they face every day.”

Many, including foreign nationals visiting the United States, were happy that worries about a debt default and international financial havoc could be put to rest.

Several British tourists discussed the developments in Times Square, not far from the National Debt Clock, a billboard-size digital display showing how much money the United States owes. They noted that Britain has had to cut costs over the last few years.

“For us in Europe it’s a good thing,” said one of the tourists, Andrew Harris, who works for an airline. “We were waiting for them to come to an agreement. It was really a scary thing to hear. What happens in the U.S. always has an impact in Europe.”

Ernie Robert, 52, of Deerfield, N.H., was at a Dallas shopping mall’s ice rink watching a youth hockey practice when he learned that a debt deal had been reached.

Robert, who considers himself an independent voter, said he would have been far more disappointed had leaders “kicked the can down the road for six months,” but nevertheless said “I’m not impressed” with the long process that led to the deal.

“I don’t think it has to be that way,” Robert said.

But Nancy Curry, 76, a patron at Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta, believed that stretched-out standoffs are simply the norm in the nation’s current political circumstances.

“I think anything nowadays is going to be just like this was,” she said.


Associated Press writers Rachel D’Oro in Anchorage, Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Janet McMillan in Philadelphia, Karen Zraick in New York, Terry Wallace in Dallas and Ray Henry in Atlanta contributed to this story.

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