Standoff on the Debt Ceiling: Is There a Mediator in the House, Please?

by Petra Maxwell on July 21, 2011

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As Congress misses its deadline once again for an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, shattering the confidence of even the most cynical of economic analysts, we have to wonder why the White House has not considered using a different strategy to settle this impasse: Mediation.  The recent debate in Washington about the debt ceiling and the budget have offered a window into the importance of mediation, says a recent article in the Pittsbugh BusinessTimes. The article makes some good points about how mediation could help move the process along quickly toward resolution.  As anyone who’s been involved in an intense family, business or neighborhood conflict knows, mediators can be highly successful in getting the parties to focus on the heart of the problem, and helping them brainstorm creatively about solutions in order to achieve a ‘win-win’ agreement.  Let’s take a quick look at how a mediator could be helpful in the White House as the clock is ticking ever closer to the August 2nd budget deadline.

Mediation Resolves Disputes Quickly

There’s no argument that, when it comes to the current budget crisis and the bill under consideration to raise the debt ceiling, time is of the essence.  And mediation is always the speediest way to help parties cut through the posturing, the politics and saber-rattling, to reach an agreement that will stick. Waiting to go to court often takes months. Mediation, on the other hand is an immediate solution that allows the parties to sit down quickly and start to find solutions before the problem becomes larger. The debt ceiling is a pressing problem, and one that needs to be resolved quickly, something mediation could handily do.

Mediation Helps Parties Problem-Solve More Creatively

The debt ceiling has proven to be a persistent point of contention and the parties continue to circle around the same topics and offer up the same solutions. In disputes like this, a mediator can often step in and help the parties think about the problems in new ways. Mediators don’t offer solutions, but they do guide the parties to look at the problem in a new way, thereby helping them develop alternative solutions. Having a non-invested, neutral third party in the room can change the tone of the conversation and make it more productive, thoughtful, and creative.

Mediation Keeps the Debate Focused

It is also important to remember that a mediator does, in fact, mediate.  That is, a mediator’s job is to keep the conversation on point and on target. In family mediation, elder care mediation, and business mediation, parties have a tendency to wander and to pull in topics, situations, and associated problems that are not helpful in resolving the issue on the table. A mediator guides the talks in a focused way, moving the parties from point to point, helping them move towards solutions and also helping them see the interrelation between the problems at hand so they can be solved in a cohesive manner.

Mediation is Private and Positive

The mediation room is a positive space, where parties are not allowed to speak harshly and posturing is discouraged. Mediators work to keep parties focused on constructive conflict resolution rather than rehashing the past. In addition, mediation is a more private process, where parties are urged to keep the issues in the room – unlike the talks in Washington, which take place very much in the public eye (or at least are reported to the public after the fact). The privacy of the process can be helpful in resolving sensitive and complex conflicts where multiple agendas are at stake.  By allowing parties to lay their cards on the table honestly and openly, they can ‘cut to the chase’ more quickly if they are not having to worry about the  public perception of each position and argument presented.

Mediation offers a multitude of benefits for settling conflicts – from marital squabbles, inter-family conflicts, business problems, to cross-border disputes.  Maybe it’s time that the lawmakers in Washington try a new approach to ending the deadlock on the debt ceiling debate and bring a neutral into the room to help them move swiftly toward resolution.

 

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