The inability of Congress and President Barack Obama to reach a deal on raising the national debt ceiling leaves retired Air Force pilot Phil Pignataro filled with feelings, none of them good.
“All the negative emotions you can think of I pretty much have when I see that there’s no compromise and they’re willing to ruin the economy,” said Pignataro, a 65-year-old who lives in Algonquin, Illinois. “For better or for worse, my retirement is all tied up in the government.”
Polls and interviews conducted over the past two days show Pignataro is among Americans growing disenchanted by and disconnected from congressional leaders and Obama, even as they face a personal economic reckoning.
If Aug. 2 passes with no deal, the government won’t have money to pay monthly Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits and contracts with businesses, President Barack Obama said in a televised address yesterday. Interest rates on credit cards, mortgages and car loans would skyrocket, Obama said.
The average American had real disposable income after taxes of $33,064, according to May figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The lead debt-ceiling negotiators, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell each will earn $193,400 this year, according to U.S. Senate data. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, reported assets worth up to $9.4 million on his annual financial disclosure statement released in June. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, reported assets up to $19.8 million.
“They’re not in touch with reality,” said Cheryl Carroll, 51, who lives in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, with her two daughters. She has been applying for jobs in retail and subsisting off her family’s investments since her husband died last year.
“They should really get an average American in Congress who knows how to balance their checkbook,” Carroll said. “It would be fixed in a week.”
A Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,001 Americans showed 45 percent “strongly disapprove” of the way Obama is handling the budget deficit. The July 14-17 survey showed 77 percent said Republican leadership has been not willing enough to compromise on the issue.
Disapproval of Obama and lawmakers also is rising.
A CNN/Opinion Research Poll July 18-20 found that 54 percent of people disapproved of the way Obama is handling his job, compared with 46 percent in an April 29-May 1 poll. The survey showed 55 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, compared with 48 percent in a March 11-13 poll. The poll showed 49 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the Democrats, compared with 48 percent in the March poll.
Outside the Beltway
“Politicians from both parties are out of touch,” Doris Capello, 63, a retired college professor from Westchester County, New York, said yesterday while waiting for a train at New York’s Grand Central Station.
“One of the arguments is that a lot of them have been in Washington for too long,” said Capello, a registered Democrat. “We need people who have experience but we also need them to really be in touch with their constituents.”
Obama acknowledged anger in his speech yesterday.
Americans are “fed up with a town where compromise has become a dirty word,” Obama said. “They work all day long, many of them scraping by, just to put food on the table.”
“They see leaders who can’t seem to come together and do what it takes to make life just a little bit better for ordinary Americans,” Obama said. “They are offended by that. And they should be.”
The 2008 financial crisis that prompted the U.S. government to prop up hobbled financial giants with a $700 billion taxpayer-funded bailout left many Americans struggling with unemployment, depressed wages, soaring foreclosure rates and slashed retirement savings.
One in 111 U.S. homes had at least one foreclosure filing in the first half of this year, RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, California-based provider of default data, reported July 14. The U.S. unemployment rate inched up to 9.2 percent in June, from 9.1 percent in May, and has hovered around 9 percent since March 2009, according to Labor Department data.
“The status quo has gotten a lot of people rich,” said Matthew Slade, 40, who is shop chairman of UAW Local 175 in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he works for a General Motors plant that packages vehicle replacement bumpers. “It’s worked out for the elite very, very well.”
Reid, the Senate majority leader, and House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, yesterday offered competing plans to lift the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and avert default. Lawmakers met to discuss the issue yesterday without a resolution.
Karen Miller, 59, stopped watching the news after negotiations stalled.
“I get so disgusted,” Miller, 59, of Paso Robles, California, said in an interview. “What’s the point of following it until they get close to the deadline?”
Many are paying attention as the minutes tick off toward the Aug. 2 set by the U.S. Treasury Department. Ben Keel III, a financial planner in Katy, Texas, said a client asked him yesterday whether he should convert his 401(k) investments into cash to guard against default. Keel said switching to cash isn’t a good long-term strategy even though stock and bond prices may get hit temporarily.
“People are worried,” Keel said yesterday in a telephone interview. “The debate is clearly causing some angst in the public.”
The July CNN poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed would blame Republicans if the debt ceiling weren’t raised, compared with 30 percent who would blame Obama.
“If this goes past a deadline and people feel the impact of that, then I think they will want to hold somebody accountable,” Michael Dimock, associate director at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, said yesterday in a telephone interview. The Washington-based nonpartisan center studies attitudes toward politics and policy issues.
Dimock said Americans, who generally believe the country’s institutions have failed, will be swayed only by the final product of the bruising arguments.
“If the process is ugly but they achieve something, that’s what will stick in the minds of the public,” he said.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at email@example.com.