Washington debt woes make Albany look good

The Capitol Dome on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The Capitol Dome on Capitol Hill in Washington. (July 28, 2011) (Credit: AP)

For the moment -- at least to some, and at least superficially -- it looks as if Albany runs more smoothly than Washington.

State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) introduced Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to the audience at SUNY Old Westbury on Wednesday. Both hailed bipartisan cooperation on Long Island. "Boy, am I glad to hear about dysfunction in Washington -- rather than Albany," Skelos said. The line got a big rise from local VIPs gathered to hear the governor announce members of his regional planning council.

Only two years ago, at the height of a power struggle, Democrats and Republicans were holding simultaneous sessions in the same Senate chamber -- as if the Marx Brothers had rewritten Robert's Rules.

But today, the workings of the two-party rivalry in Congress over the debt ceiling -- routinely raised during past Democratic and GOP presidencies -- threatens the tantalizing prospect of default.

The mere absence of a debt agreement of any kind, regardless of its content, has aroused alarmed news coverage, emotional concerns, phone calls, emails and letters from citizens to offices in the nation's capital.

Similar concerns about the very enactment of a budget -- whatever it may contain -- tarnished the image of Albany in the years before this year's on-time performance.

In his own speech on Long Island, Cuomo declared: "Establishing government competence drives business confidence." Asked later about the U.S. debt standoff, Cuomo wasn't about to step into the muck.

"We have our fingers crossed that it's going to be resolved so we can all move on," Cuomo said. "My hope and my expectation is that we work it out and we move on, and that's what I believe is going to happen."

States and localities face hard consequences if a federal default occurs. Cash flow could be jammed up if federal Medicaid and road money payments are stymied. Beyond that is the potential impact on individuals.

Not that states and localities in New York have undergone unassailable transformation. Details of trims in many state agencies remain murky, as do many future expenses and revenue.

But the facile posturing out of D.C. gets the bad press for now. Some in and around Congress seem shocked that multiple foreign military involvements and other commitments would cost tons of cash. Others have acted as if any concern for efficiency could mean nothing other than hostility to popular programs.

The other day in Old Westbury, Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) warmly introduced Republican Skelos, who warmly introduced Cuomo.

" . . . I was challenged in an election because I was too close to Republicans," Weisenberg said, noting that when the Democrats, mostly from New York City, for one term took the Senate majority, he was upset "because who am I talking with in regards to the needs of the Island . . ?

"We are the affluent Island, I was told. And I said, 'You come down, I'll take you to the soup kitchen, I'll take you to the cars people are living in, people that are losing their houses, I mean, you don't understand that poor is poor, and we are just as poor as your poor," he said.

Weisenberg indicated those in Albany are now ready to focus on job creation and the only way to succeed is by both sides of the aisle working together. In public officials' demeanor, the fashion of the New York moment is bipartisan kumbaya, even as rival posturing puts Washington in turmoil. Shallow, maybe -- but public images often are.