Business community AWOL in debt debate

August 11, 2011

Where was the business community when the debt ceiling debate was going on?

Why weren't they piling into Washington with grim faces and falling charts showing Congress what was likely to happen if America continued make a spectacle of itself, looking to all the world like Ozzy Osbourne and his family had taken over the Capitol?

Why are corporate lobbyists' fingers only on the speed dial buttons when fighting for corporate welfare but not for the welfare of the nation? Don't they realize that their corporate welfare is dependent on the welfare of the nation, and the welfare of the nation is dependent on the middle class? If the middle class tanks, the wealthy tank too. That is what the mortgage debacle should have taught them. (Government bailouts won't come with every crisis.)

It is the consumer who drives the economy. Perhaps 80 percent of our economy is driven by what you and I buy. So when we don't buy — and we aren't buying now — the market suffers. Take care of us and you take care of the marketplace. It is good old-fashioned self-interest that should move corporations to pay taxes and help balance the budget so the economy can go on humming.

And it is good old-fashioned self-interest and trickle-up economics that should have motivated corporations to weigh in.

It was clear that Washington could not resolve the debt ceiling debate alone, what with the tea party refusing to budge and body-snatching the Republicans, leadership and all.

There was however one strong voice that could have changed the nature of the debate, one voice that had the clout to force a fair deal, and that was the voice of the business community. "The markets instill discipline on politicians and governments," to quote Chris Rupkey of the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York. But in this case, they were AWOL.

As John Chambers, head of S&P's sovereign ratings said on ABC's "This Week," it would "take a stabilization of the debt as a share of the economy and eventual decline [to return the U.S. credit rating to AAA]. And it would take, I think, more ability to reach consensus in Washington than what we're observing now."

This could have been the message the business community delivered months ago, sparing us all this debacle, and shame. But they were surprisingly silent. They were either in denial, assuming all would work out in the end. America is, after all, too big to fail. Or they were hunkering down pretending they could protect themselves from all those pesky tax cuts while the country was bashing its head on the debt ceiling.

They must remember they are not separate from the rest of us. If they see themselves above us, it is only because we are carrying them. The good news may be that they will get another chance when Congress reconvenes.

Maybe next time they will do the right thing.

Nina Beth Cardin, Baltimore

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