A debate that played out over headlines for months over raising the nation's debt limit came to an end on Tuesday deadline, with a last-minute bill being approved by Congress and the President. But the rhetoric and finger-pointing leading up to the vote has definitely left its mark.
Rep. Tim Bishop, D-Southampton, in his fifth term in Congress, called the debate on the floor of the House of Representatives the most passionate he had seen - too passionate, even. He recently shared his thoughts with Patch on the heated issue and what he thinks his party could have done differently.
Patch: Can you describe what the debt ceiling debate has been like, both in the weeks leading up to today and in the past couple of days?
Tim Bishop: Very, very frustrating. And then secondly, very, very scary. I really believe that there were a significant number of Republicans that believed that default was a reasonable option. And so in their view, they're negotiating from a position of strength because they were not afraid of the consequences if there wasn't a deal. I think that level of irresponsibility and extremism is frankly very, very difficult to deal with. And very alarming.
Patch: How do you feel about the deal that was reached?
TB: I'm glad sanity prevailed, and won out over partisan brinksmanship. But I'm not happy with the deal at all. Out of all of the alternatives on the table, the least palatable was default. So I voted for it simply to make sure we don't default.
Patch: A lot has been made about the influence the freshman class of Republican Representatives have had on the debt ceiling conversation. What was your experience with them?
TB: Interpersonally, the casual conversations are as friendly and cordial as they have always been. But their policy differences are about as sharp and frankly about as angry as I've ever seen.
I'm a firm believer that no problem is solved when its solution is approached from the vantage point of anger. And I do believe that many of my colleagues are motivated by anger. It has permeated this discussion. And that makes arriving at a reasonable path going forward much more difficult.
Patch: What was it like seeing Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., show up to cast her vote?
TB: That was very powerful, very moving. There was a huge crowd of people around her so I wasn't able to say hello, but to just see her come in and the rush of emotion and support for her, and to see her cast her vote - the green 'Y' come up next to her name - that was a really, really moving moment.
Patch: To what other issue would you compare the conversation over the debt ceiling?
TB: There was more passion in the chamber over this issue than I've ever seen. But the most emotion I've ever seen attending a vote was health care. This debate itself was angrier than the health care debate, but the passion people attach to it, and the intolerance.
So many people are blaming President Obama and the Democrats for this deficit we face. It if weren't so serious it would be laughable - it's a revisionist's history of the worst order. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that President Obama was inheriting a $1.3 trillion deficit.
Patch: If that's the case, then you'd have to say Republicans did quite a good job at framing the conversation.
TB: No question. Republicans have been extremely successful in framing the debate and in effect driving the public narrative on this. If you repeat something that isn't true enough and enough, people start believing it.
Patch: So what should Democrats have done differently?
TB: We could have pushed back harder. The problem is that everyone recognizes a need to reduce spending. The 269 votes in favor of the bill is indicative of that.
The thing Democrats need to do is push back harder on two subjects. First, the cuts put in place have to be arrived at with some kind of fair, reasonable assessment of what the needs of the people we represent are. Second, it must be a shared sacrifice.
And we must contrast between the choices, by shining a spotlight on the choices Republicans would have us make as opposed to those Democrats would have us make.