x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Washington debt limit impasse boon for pizza deliveries

If agreement is not reached on raising the debt limit by Tuesday, the US risks a potentially catastrophic debt default. To meet the deadline, America¿s elected representatives and their staffs have been working through the weekend

WASHINGTON //Trying to stay away from the 72 per cent relative humidity that had contributed to a blisteringly uncomfortable day in Washington on Friday, a half dozen employees of a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria were getting ready for another busy night in Capitol Hill.

Four blocs away, Senate Democrats were about to kill a House-passed debt limit increase bill less than two hours after it squeaked through the House.

If agreement is not reached on raising the debt limit by Tuesday, the US risks a potentially catastrophic debt default. To meet the deadline, America's elected representatives and their staffs have been working through the weekend. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has scheduled a vote for early this morning to break a Republican filibuster.

The six employees at Pizza Holi's have also been doing overtime. On Thursday, Pizza Holi's had seen sales rise by 30 per cent.

"Hey, it makes me happy. Their budget problem is good for my budget," joked Azzam Mohammad, the restaurant's manager.

His good mood is not widely shared, however. Whether on radio talk shows or on the streets Americans are increasingly worrying about a deadlock that has in turn done politicians few favours.

"It's embarrassing," said Steve Harper, 55, who owns an IT consultancy in nearby Maryland and was in Washington for the weekend. "These guys really make me angry. I can't even begin to imagine what we must look like to the outside world."

The worst thing, said Mr Harper, who described himself as politically independent, was that he didn't know whom to blame.

"The Republicans obviously have problems with those Tea Party extremists. But I don't think [US President Barack] Obama has shown any guts."

In his weekly radio address yesterday, Mr Obama urged Democratic and Republican lawmakers to reach a deal quickly.

"The time for putting party first is over," Mr Obama said. "The time for compromise on behalf of the American people is now."

On Friday, Mr Obama saw his approval rating drop to an all-time low of 40 per cent, according to a Gallup poll. Yet, according to a poll taken by the same company on Thursday, he is still the politician more Americans see as having handled debt negotiations best.

With 41 per cent of those surveyed saying he has done the better job, he outpolled John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, by 10 percentage points.

In reality, most Americans don't really care at all for the job their elected officials in Washington are doing. A July 26 Rasmussen poll found that a record low of 6 per cent of respondents said they thought Congress was doing a good or excellent job. Sixty-one per cent said Congress was doing a poor job.

By Friday, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 80 per cent were either angry or dissatisfied with the way the government was working.

Sipping coffee in a Capitol Hill Starbucks, Angel was more sanguine. A legal consultant with the government, she did not want to give her full name. But, she said, she thought agreement would eventually be reached.

"They are just posturing," the 31-year old said about the legislators. "They do this all the time. Maybe I'm complacent. I just can't believe they will let the country default and risk the credit rating."

Similarly confident was Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman and a Republican presidential candidate, who spoke on Thursday at the National Press Club.

The US would not default on its debt, she said, indicating that she thought Mr Obama was somehow exaggerating the imminence of the danger. She also vowed never to vote for any increase in the debt ceiling. Indeed, later that day she voted against Mr Boehner's plan.

Mrs Bachman said the "heartland" wanted a candidate who could stand firm. "People want someone who will say no, so they can say yes, yes to jobs and yes to growth," she said.

As the stalemate on Capitol Hill continues, the workers at Pizza Holi's are simply saying yes to more orders - an unexpected economic bonus from the congressional impasse.


* With additional reporting by the Associated Press