On a recent Sunday morning as I watched the political talk shows, two commercials ran back to back. The first accused Sen. Mitch McConnell of being an obstructionist, causing gridlock and fighting President Barack Obama at every turn; the next accused him of compromising with Obama and not holding his ground against Democratic initiatives such as Obamacare.
I sat dumbfounded, wondering how two groups could observe the same events and come to such diametrically opposed conclusions. It seemed to make little sense in a rational world. I also wondered if the constituents of the United States have lost their minds.
No matter your politics, what is happening in Washington is placing all of our financial security and wellbeing at risk. Defaulting on the nation's debt would not only have affected the money borrowed on bonds, but also interest rates on all loans, insurance for the safety of bank and money market savings, along with the stock market and jobs. When the International Monetary Fund's chief, Christine Lagarde, warns that the United States must "hurry up but slow down" or financial ruin will ensue, we all need to listen. In other words, the U.S. needs to implement a debt-reduction policy soon, but implement it slowly.
This country's political divides have grown so great that such challenges seem insurmountable. I have never been so scared for my security than in late 2012, when negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke down. That's really too mild a description. They were engaged in barroom name- calling. But out of the blue, negotiations between Vice President Joe Biden and McConnell led to a last-minute compromise which prevented an economic collapse. And for his efforts McConnell was hammered by his own party and called the ultimate Republican insult — a liberal.
Fast forward 10 months and it's deja vu. Budget and debt-ceiling negotiations had broken down between the Republican House and Democratic Senate and president. The market was nervous but not tanking, but I was resting easier, having learned there are at least a few seasoned, level-headed negotiators left in Washington. Indeed, the U.S. was pulled back from the brink of disaster by negotiations between McConnell and Reid. No permanent fix, just a band-aid, but at least the economy is still alive, albeit barely.
For his efforts McConnell is again hammered, this time for a $3 billion dam project denounced by the far right as a "Kentucky kickback" and an example of political malfeasance. Before learning more, I had envisioned a recreational dam to appease the boaters of Ballard County (with a little over 6,000 voters, under 20 percent of them registered Republican). But this isn't the case.
The Olmsted Locks and Dam, on the Ohio River near its confluence with the Mississippi River, rely on 90-year-old technology and are disintegrating, placing the downstream population at risk of flooding along with choking a major artery which transports nearly 90 billion tons of goods annually. Funding for this project began in 1988 and it has cost overruns in part because of funding delays. The Olmsted Locks and Dam are a prime example of crumbling infrastructure which will affect the entire U.S. and which the federal government has the responsibility to fix.
I wonder if these same opponents are also against replacing the Interstate 75 bridge over the Ohio River and if they, like I, have a foreboding of being pancaked by a falling slab of concrete on the way to Cincinnati. This is also an important and expensive infrastructure project vital to keep an important transportation artery flowing.
McConnell's election is a year away, an eternity in politics. Other issues will arise, and I suspect a major issue next fall will be the success or failure of Obamacare. By then we should know the result. But for now, I am very glad to have McConnell in Washington during this time of economic uncertainty to bring some harmony and agreement between the warring camps.
Kevin Kavanagh is a Somerset physician who writes frequently about health care issues.