But, as bad as all of this may be, it pales in comparison to what could happen if Congress creates another manufactured crisis by failing to raise the debt limit by October 17.

Throughout our nation’s history, our government has never defaulted on our legal obligations. In fact, the debt limit has been permanently raised, temporarily extended or has undergone a revision of its definition 78 distinct times since 1960 (49 times under a Republican president and 29 times under a Democratic president). According to the Treasury Department, if America defaults on our global financial obligations, it would likely send our economy back into a deep recession—with high interest rates, reduced investment, higher debt payments, and slow economic growth—that could last for more than a generation.

This issue is not one to manipulate for political power plays or to use as a stick to force repeals of passed legislation. With the world watching and China—our largest creditor—using this as an opportunity to remind us of “the lessons of history” from our 2011 credit rating downgrade attributable to Congressional deadlock, the stakes are high and the consequences of inaction are even more dire. Political grandstanding isn’t worth it for anyone, and in the end, it will be the American people—not one party or political figure—who lose if we continue down this path.

Let’s be clear—principled, partisan fights are a part of democracy. But we must never become so irreconcilable that rigid ideology is valued above the needs of American citizens. Our message to Congress is clear: Don’t play with the full faith and credit of the United States. Act now and demonstrate to our nation and the world how democracy can be—at its best.

(Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.)


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