One of the harshest and most frustrating lessons of childhood is that you can't just throw a hissy fit and storm off every time you don't get exactly what you want.
You can do this, of course, but you'll soon find yourself playing alone, with no friends, or in a "time out." So children gradually learn that the tantrum mode of negotiation is, as a consultant might say, "sub-optimal." And, eventually, if they are to become productive, effective, and practical adults, they grow up.
Except, apparently, in Washington.
In Washington, it seems, some Americans have found a way to reach middle-age without ever becoming adults. And now these overgrown children are threatening to voluntarily force the United States into default just because they aren't getting exactly what they want.
Who are they?
The Republicans and Democrats (especially the so-called "tea party" Republicans) who would rather see the U.S. default on its obligations than compromise on their particular pet goals to reach a debt-ceiling deal.
To be clear: The Republicans deserve credit for focusing the country's attention on our spiraling budget mess. They deserve credit for forcing the Democrats to offer a long-term plan that begins to address the problem. They deserve credit for forcing President Obama to take a reasonable middle-of-the-road approach in the debt-ceiling negotiations.
But for some of the children in Congress, those gains aren't enough. They want, well, everything they want.
And if they don't get it?
Well, then, they'll just throw a hissy fit and storm off, forcing the U.S. into default.
Needless to say, this isn't admirable behavior. It's not leadership. It's not what the country needs as it struggles to find a way out of this mess. And it's certainly not something these Congress-folk should be commended for.
Yes, the United States needs to focus on its long-term budget problem. Yes, it needs to cut spending. And, yes, the latest plans put forth by both parties probably don't cut spending enough.
But the United States also needs to be very careful about how and when it cuts this spending, and where. It needs to cut spending in areas that many of the children blocking a debt deal consider sacrosanct. And it also, almost certainly, needs to raise taxes--the mere mention of which makes the children start screaming again.
Being an adult means compromising as you strive to get what you want. It means working your way out of problems, not howling that everything must be the way you want it right now. In the case of the government leaders, it means doing the right thing, even if the right thing isn't exactly what your constituents want.
It's time for the children in Washington to grow up.