By Greg Brown, NAA Legislative Affairs
I was perusing the great oracle that is Wikipedia the other day and came across something that is somewhat of a Cold War icon, but I think has some currency in our current national political environment. It is the “doomsday clock,” a device maintained at the University of Chicago by an organization called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. This device is a visual representation of the distance of the world from global disaster (typically nuclear war, but recently adapted for other potential calamities). The closer the clock is to midnight, the closer we are to the end.
The closest the clock has ever gotten to midnight (11:58 p.m.) was in 1953 when the United States and the Soviet Union tested nuclear weapons within nine months of each other. The furthest it has ever been away from midnight (11:46 p.m.) was 1991 when the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Currently, the clock stands at 11:54 p.m., six minutes to midnight.
Considered in the present context of hyper-partisanship in Washington, D.C., I thought perhaps we should establish a similar clock to show how far away we stand from a government shutdown, debt default or other fiscal misfortune. If one already existed, we would have been at one minute to midnight at least three times already this year.
First, it was the debate last spring over the 2011 federal budget that took us to within days of a government shutdown. Then there was the July/August fight over whether to increase the nation’s debt limit. We danced the night away, right to the edge of default. Finally, we had another government shutdown scare just last month because of disagreement over whether to offset (pay for) the cost of disaster relief to several states impacted by recent floods. Noah, where are you?
It used to be that when a member of Congress used tactics that took you to the precipice of disaster they were accused of “brinksmanship.” Now, these tactics are becoming the rule rather than the exception. And while all of these potential calamities were narrowly avoided, there is a cost for constantly standing at the brink. It undermines the confidence of the markets, other nations, and perhaps most importantly, American consumers. We wonder. Can our leaders get their act together and get things done to save the economy? All parties are important players in our eventual economic recovery (and the continued success of the apartment industry). Their confidence in our political system is critical.
Speaking of looming deadlines, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka the Super committee) continues its deliberations toward reaching $1.2 trillion-$1.5 trillion in federal budget savings. It is zipped lips thus far from committee members (at least publicly), and no one is talking on the record about what potential deal may be coming together.
Off the record and outside the lines, a deal on taxes in addition to cuts in federal spending still appear to be a possibility although no one is saying what that means. As for what is to be cut, foreign aid and funding for U.S. engagement around the world are commonly mentioned and on the block. Those are small dollars, however, so there is a lot more that must be found to hit the goal. The clock is ticking and little time remains for the group to reach consensus and put something before Congress by year’s end.
I will close with a request (I can’t help myself but ask for something, can I?). NAA is engaged in an effort to promote the good work of our affiliates and members in the area of homelessness. If you are part of a homelessness assistance program in your area, let us know by emailing Carole Roper at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your good work helps us provide examples for others to follow and creates a positive narrative about owners, operators and managers of apartments.