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Debt-ceiling vote gives pause to a number of us

Citizens wanted the matter settled faster, but appear divided on what to do next

The Oregon congressional delegation's divided vote on the debt-ceiling legislation this week probably was a fair representation of how this state's residents feel about the issue: Many people believe the compromise struck on Monday and Tuesday goes too far toward cutting important government services, while others are equally adamant in their belief that reducing the long-term deficit is the most important thing that can be accomplished for the nation's future.

Residing between those two points of view is a large group of people who just wanted the matter settled - for the immediate good of the country and its economy. Our observation is that most local residents were disgruntled that it took so long for the two political parties to come to an agreement. And they were angry that Congress had to take the United States to the verge of default before it could act.

Political dysfunction aside, the debt-ceiling debate has real-life implications right here in our communities. Cutting government spending isn't a faraway exercise that affects only Washington, D.C. The budget cutbacks that eventually will come from deficit reduction will hit home in a variety of ways.

For the record, Sen. Ron Wyden supported the legislation while Sen. Jeff Merkley opposed it. Both are Democrats. Over in the House, Democrats David Wu and Kurt Schrader voted yes as did Republican Greg Walden; Democratic congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio both rejected the bill.

Under the agreement reached this week, many of the hard decisions have been put off for the future. But make no mistake, any true deficit reduction will mean changes in entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, reductions in defense and homeland security spending and a scaling back of all kinds of government programs that people and communities have come to expect.

In the near term, however, the big worry is the economy and jobs. A pullback in government spending will take dollars out of the economy and further weaken what is already a stalled recovery. In the longer term, deficit reduction will be positive for the economy, but the legislation approved this week will complicate the recovery in the short run.

Of course, curbing the growth in federal spending doesn't exactly mean that the government is left with no resources to help the economy. To that end, members of Oregon's congressional delegation - regardless of how they voted on the debt-ceiling deal - should now concentrate their attention on jobs.

Tens of thousands of Oregonians remain unemployed in the wake of the worst recession in modern times. Now, they have little hope for a quick turnaround. And it's abundantly clear that government-funded stimulus is no longer politically possible. That leaves Oregon's U.S. representatives and senators with an obligation to use whatever tools are available to promote programs and conditions that are more conducive to quicker job creation in the private sector.