Debt-Ceiling Talks: Impossible

Published: July 18, 2011

By Jim Lichtman
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Negotiations stalled? Partisan gridlock? Angry citizens?

It’s time to call in the heavy artillery.

Chef Robert Irvine, fresh from the battlefront of Food Network’s Restaurant:Impossible, knows deadlines like the back of his hand. In fact, he’s very accomplished in using the back of his hand in dealing with entrenched chefs, staff and owners.

“Sometimes you gotta just take the bull by the horns!” Robert tells us after we give him his most impossible challenge yet:Get the debt-ceiling issue finalized and possibly revive the credibility of Washington!

“Okay,” Robert says facing leaders from both parties along with President Obama, all seated around that big conference table in the West Wing. “You’ve all had months to resolve this issue and nothing is done. The clock runs out on August 2nd, but I’m not waiting that long. I expect both sides to accomplish this task in the next 24 hours!”

The room degrades into moans and groans.

“STOP, RIGHT NOW!” Robert tells them.

Everyone’s silent as Chef Robert slowly walks around the table. “What you guys and lady need,” he says nodding to Nancy Pelosi, “is to make a lot of tough choices and the only way you’re going to succeed is by putting all the political posturing aside. This is not about the business of politics. This is about the business of the people and doing the right thing for the millions that you both represent. Failure is not an option.”

“I was sent here,” Eric Cantor begins, “by the Tea Party and…”

“Well this isn’t a party, Eric. This is serious work, because, my friend, if you want to sit at this table you have to be willing to represent all the people.

Both sides have a chance to change the character of Washington from a place that can’t get things done to a place that can, but it can only happen through well-considered compromise.

“First thing we’re going to do is break into two groups,” Robert looks at a list of names. Speaker Boehner… John, you’re job is to go into the next room with Eric and, what was your name again?”

“Mitch McConnell, Chef.”

“Right. John, your job is to go in the other room with Eric and Mitch and come up with the list of specifics that you can do to increase revenue.”

More grumbles as they begin to leave.

“Hold on! I didn’t tell anyone they could leave, yet.” Robert adds. “Nancy, your job is to go into the next room and…”

“I know. You want us to…

“Nancy, look at me,” Robert says. “There’s a time to talk and a time to listen. You’re looking at an out-of-control deficit,” he says as he picks up a hotbox of food and sets it down on the table, then pulls out a single plate.

“Here’s the budget. Mash potatoes and gravy represent the Pentagon budget. These two big pieces of chicken represent Medicare and Medicaid. This big pile of broccoli…”

“I hate broccoli,” Harry Reid says.

“Good, Harry, because that’s Social Security. Now, this little section over here by the side of the plate, the parsley, baby carrots that’s the only part that you guys want to cut.”  Robert shakes his head. “Not good enough. If we’re going to make any meaningful change to the budget and the deficit, you’ve got to deal with the bigger items on the menu.”

“But Chef, those are entitlements,” Pelosi points out.

“Did I say, get rid of ALL the chicken, Nancy? No, I’m asking you to cut some of the chicken. Right now you’re looking at a plate of food that costs far too much to maintain. I understand that the government is not in business to make a profit, but they shouldn’t be running in this much red ink. That’s why I want you and Harry,” Robert says putting his hand on Reid’s shoulder, “I want you both to go into the next room with your people and come back with a plan to reduce the biggest items on the plate.”

Pelosi rolls her eyes.

“I need to hear that you understand me, Nancy.”

“…I understand you, Chef,” Pelosi says.

“Good!” Robert claps his hands hard. “Okay, I want you all back in here in ONE hour!”

More moans and groans.

“Hey, HEY! HOLD IT! Remember what I said earlier? Were you listening, Eric, Nancy, John, Harry, Mitch?”

They all nod.

“Then, let me hear it,” Robert insists.

“…failure is not an option…” they all reply, weakly.

Robert throws open the doors to the rose garden. “The PEOPLE out there need to hear it from you, come on!”

“FAILURE is NOT an option!”

“Now, go!”

Everyone scatters except the president.

“Great talk, Chef,” Obama says as he gets up to leave. “I think I’ll just check and see if Sasha and Malia need any help with their homework.”

“Not so fast, Mr. President. You and I need to talk,” Robert says as he leads the president out into the rose garden. “These talks have deteriorated into chaos.”

“Well, it didn’t begin on my watch.”

“But it’s got to be accomplished on your watch,” Robert tells him. “You are facing a monumental challenge in leadership here, and leadership means demonstrating the character and the courage to make tough and possibly unpopular choices.”

“I’m sincerely trying to change things,” Obama confides.

“I’m sure you are. However, the stakes have never been higher. You’ve simply got to avoid another financial crisis. You can’t risk a possible credit downgrade, rising interest rates or a run on money-market funds. The people out there are sick and tired of business as usual. They need leaders that will LEAD.”

The president listens intently.

“Here’s what I need from you,” Robert says. “I need you to go in that room over there, sit down with Nancy, Harry and their team and steer them toward specific cuts in entitlements. You need to motivate them, Mr. President, to get the people’s business in order.” He puts a hand on Obama’s shoulder. “Can you do that for me, sir?”

“Yes, I can, Chef.”

We see a series of quick cut images: people talking, chairs being shoved, papers thrown. One member walks out of one room and Robert pushes him back in, closes the door and locks it.

Finally, both sides return to the conference room and take their seats.

Announcer: “Will they meet Chef Robert’s deadline? Can they put politics aside and accomplish the impossible?”

“Oh, they’ll come up with something,” Robert says folding his arms. “No one’s coming out that door without an agreement. I guarantee it.”


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