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Preview of US budget battle?

By Kay Bell ·
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Posted: 1 pm ET

Want a preview of what might happen in the federal debt ceiling and budget deficit battle? Visit Minnesota.

Actually, don't visit Minnesota. That state is still shut down after the governor, a Democrat, and the state legislature, controlled by Republicans, couldn't agree on a state budget.

It was a decidedly uncelebratory Fourth of July for residents of the North Star State. There had been hope that after the long holiday break, talks would resume and the $5 billion fiscal battle would be resolved.

Today, however, things look to be worse.

A week after the initial impasse, budget talks have blown up again. Gov. Mark Dayton is accusing Republicans of lying. Republicans are angry that Dayton still insists on raising taxes.

Does this sound at all familiar?

Meanwhile, state workers who no longer have jobs to go to have found another way to occupy their days. They've gathered at the state capitol in St. Paul carrying signs that have gone from "Tax the Rich," which is Dayton's proposal to help fund many public services, to "Eat the Rich."

Yep, things definitely are getting worse.

Will things get this bad in Washington, D.C., where there's similar political polarization as the Aug. 2 debt ceiling deadline nears?

I spent 20 years in the nation's capital, working on Capitol Hill either as a Congressional staffer or a member of a government relations team -- OK, lobbyist -- for a couple of Fortune 100 companies. I've seen fiscal fights up close and personal. But in recent years, things have gotten out of hand.

I remember when lawmakers, even those who strongly disagreed on issues, talked to each other. Where policy that was good for the country, not just for one party's political future, was paramount.

I also saw the start of today's political theater, the late 1995 and early 1996 shutdowns of the federal government after President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress led by Newt Gingrich, now a presidential candidate, couldn't agree on funding for Medicare, education, environment and public health.

Again, sound familiar?

You'd think we would have learned something from those events, but since then, politics and policy have become even more vicious. But perhaps the end of the 20th century is just too far in the past for both today's legislators and citizens. If that's the case, we all need a memory refresher.

I know I sound like either a Pollyanna or a geezer bemoaning the loss of the good old days, or both. But unless Congress and the Obama administration can find a way back to that more productive way of operating, the United States could find its future looks a lot like Minnesota.

And that, at least right now, is a very bleak picture.

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