Several Morris County residents fully expect Congressional Republicans and Democrats and President Obama to find a way to avoid the first-ever debt default by the U.S. government, yet they are concerned that middle-class families and senior citizens will feel the brunt of the pain if such an default occurs.
With the Aug. 2 deadline looming when the federal government won’t have enough cash on hand to pay the nation’s bills—unless political leaders come to a deal allowing the government to incur more debt—there is a sense of frustration among the county residents.
"Both sides need to get bargaining ... because it’s not good for either party if the country defaults," said Hilliard Hohn of Rockaway, who was at the . "No one wants to budge. If the country defaults, Social Security checks won’t go out and other payments. It would be political suicide for whoever did it."
Retired Morristown police officer Willie Caldwell noted the debt ceiling was raised seven times under President George W. Bush, "and it’s been raised 72 times since Kennedy."
"The only reason this is an issue is because Obama is a Democrat and he is black," Caldwell said. "This has to be done or else we’re kaput."
Devin Detomber, 14, of Morris Plains, said he has been following the issue off and on, and had watched a news report Wednesday morning. He said he was a little worried political leaders won’t reach a deal.
“It’s a complex question,” he said. “But I think the Aug. 2 deadline will make them come to a decision.“
Tom Vigilante, who was raised in Morristown and now lives in Florham Park, said, “When we are spending money faster than we can print it, we need to draw the line. My parents taught me when you make $10,000 don’t spend $30,000.”
Vigilante said he thinks the leaders make a deal.
On a default, he said, “I don’t think it will be as bad as reported if it happens. We’ll have to do without some services.”
Underlying his comments is a concern that the weak economy has altered the financial plans of many people like himself. “Even though I’m 65 and retired I have to work part time,” he said.
He even sees changes in the spending habits of the clients of the limousine company he works for. The company serves some of the region’s wealthier towns, the Mendhams, the Chesters and Bernardsville, among others.
"Most customers in those towns have more money than God," he said. "They used to hire a car to take them into the city for dinner, but they are cutting back. When they cut back, it must be bad."
All four said they have been following the debate to some degree.
Hohn said he follows the debate on Facebook and on talk radio.
“I’m interested in what they have to say about the debt,” he said. “It's interesting to keep abreast of where it’s going on and the impact on politics and the country.”
Caldwell said he’s “paying attention because it’s going to be bad.”
Vigilante and Detomber said they follow the debate with a little less passion, but pay attention when the story appears on the news.
The four also spread the blame for the stalemate—and the larger argument over raising taxes or cutting programs—across the political spectrum.
Vigilante said, “I’m a Republican. I‘m not in favor of the redistribution of wealth through taxing the rich. I believe it’s time for a flat tax. I mean if Tiger Woods makes $60 million a year, he’d pay more. How much money do you need?”
Caldwell, a self-described “liberal Democrat,” said the Republicans are to blame.
"They want to turn Medicare into vouchers," he said. "How long do they think people will last? Social Security and Medicare were put in place because old people could not get healthcare. The Republicans protect the party, the rich."
He said, “the Republican get the biggest share of the blame, based on the tax cuts. When Eisenhower was president the tax rate was 90 percent and he was considered a conservative Republican. He believed that the rich should do their part to help the country. Exxon and Mobil don’t need subsidies, especially when they are shipping more jobs overseas.”
Hohn said, “Instead of raising the debt ceiling, they should cut spending, maybe in defense, but not Medicare and Social Security.”
Detomber said he sees the points of both parties.
He does not want taxes raised, even for the rich, but does not want his grandparents and other who get Social Security to get hurt, either.
None of the four believe a default would leave no victims.
“Who gets hurt?“ Hohn asked. “Seniors and the middle class. A lot of people will get hurt.”
Detomber agreed. He said he was afraid a lot of the financial impact would fall on families like his.
Caldwell and Vigilante, political opposites, agreed on where the pain would fall.
“We all get hurt,” Vigilante said.
Caldwell said, “Everyone.”