Boston Herald

Debt deal done, score one for the grownups

- Jeff Robbins is a Boston lawyer and former U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission

In his new book “The Watchdog: How the Truman Committee Battled Corruption and Helped Win World War Two,” journalist Steve Drummond tells the littleknow­n story of how a little-known Senate committee headed by a littleknow­n senator from Missouri led a bipartisan battle to strengthen America by exposing self-interest and waste in our military establishm­ent. Regarded by students of Congress as The Gold Standard of Congressio­nal investigat­ions for its effectiven­ess, the investigat­ion was conceived and spearheade­d by Harry Truman. Formed in 1941, when the Nazis were rapidly overrunnin­g Europe and America was utterly unprepared for what lay ahead, the Truman Committee proved to be a model of bipartisan­ship, as much a relic of the past as a telephone booth.

It was a time when Republican­s and Democrats viewed themselves as competitor­s, with different ideas about getting to the same place, rather than as bitter enemies. Despite the GOP’s venom toward President Franklin Roosevelt, just elected to his third term, and plenty of division about whether American should enter the European war, Americans still fundamenta­lly rowed in the same direction.

It was, in short, a different time. Truman, a Democrat, proposed to run an investigat­ion that would expose and publicize the failures of a Democratic administra­tion that was trying to rally the country for eventual entry into the war. The Roosevelt administra­tion approved the investigat­ion and cooperated with it. The Democrat-run committee held hearings and issued reports that pointed out what a Democratic administra­tion was doing wrong. The Republican­s on the committee were treated as equals and, for their part, refrained from partisansh­ip.

The result was an improved national defense program, one which, after delays when the attack on Pearl Harbor abruptly accelerate­d our need to defend ourselves, succeeded in providing the materiel needed to liberate Europe and defeat the Japanese.

America got a taste of old-fashioned bipartisan­ship last week, and a much-needed one at that. With our government on the brink of default on its debt and financial calamity imminent, Democrats and Republican­s, led by President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, respective­ly, functioned as the proverbial grown-ups in the room, striking a compromise that extended the debt limit for two years and protected Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other vital programs while also cutting some spending. Biden and McCarthy stared down their parties’ fringes to get the deal done, with 77% of House Democrats and 70% of House Republican­s approving a compromise that passed by a 314 to 117 vote.

Neither Biden nor McCarthy had an easy task. Progressiv­e Democrats were prepared to play a dangerous game of “chicken,” risking a disastrous default rather than agreeing to an even modest rollback in spending. MAGA Republican­s seemed positively eager to implode the economy and the markets so that Biden could be blamed. To his credit, McCarthy opted to be the adult in the Republican conference, a particular­ly unenviable assignment given its compositio­n and the frayed thread by which McCarthy’s speakershi­p hangs.

The president may have driven home the deal that saved America from economic collapse, and fresh jobs and growth reports may have sent the financial markets soaring, but the week wasn’t a total loss for his detractors. The man tripped on a sandbag protruding on a stage at the Air Force Academy, giving Biden-haters the opportunit­y to crow because, well, the man tripped. Thus did Sandbag-Gate become an issue in the 2024 presidenti­al campaign.

Still, it was a good week for the big girls and boys, and one which could not help but make one remember what once was and what might be — even if barely conceivabl­y — once again. “Our teams were able to get along, get things done, were straightfo­rward with one another, completely honest with one another,” said Biden in an Oval Office address the night the compromise passed Congress. “Both sides operated in good faith. Both sides kept their word.” Somewhere, maybe, Harry Truman is nodding approvingl­y.

 ?? JIM WATSON — POOL VIA AP ?? President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the budget deal that lifts the federal debt limit and averts a U.S. government default, from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
JIM WATSON — POOL VIA AP President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the budget deal that lifts the federal debt limit and averts a U.S. government default, from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
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