Playing chicken with our future

Watching President Obama's television address and the Republican response from House Speaker John Boehner last night, it was hard to forget that I wasn't watching a brilliant bit of political satire on "The Daily Show," but a real life crisis unfolding. The fact that the world's richest country is dancing on the brink of defaulting on our debt is hard to imagine. But once you get over the surreal nature of this political game of chicken, the potential consequences become extremely serious.

If the White House and Congress cannot agree on a way to raise the debt ceiling by the August 2 deadline, government checks will bounce and our country's credit becomes mud almost overnight. The U.S. might not be able to pay out veteran's benefits or Social Security. Interest rates would rise on home mortgages and car loans, putting working families who are still struggling to dig out of the recent recession back in the hole.

It's the global economic equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The IMF is now urging the U.S. to raise the debt limit. (Read the Washington Post story.)

Any solution will necessarily include cuts to government spending and critical safety net programs for children and families are at risk, including Medicaid. Medicaid provided health care to more than 61 percent of children under 18 in D.C. last year. Without it, nearly 82,000 children and youth in our city would have been uninsured. 

The sticking point is whether we will ask the rich to pay their share -- as President Obama calls them, "the millionaires and billionaires," including himself among them -- or whether we will balance this crisis solely on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. Indeed, if we do the latter, we will all pay much more down the road. 

We need to demand that our leaders in Congress and the White House act like grown ups and come to a reasonable decision. The world is watching to see if they will do the right thing. 

Please take a moment to sign our letter to President Obama asking him to protect Medicaid.