The catfights in Congress over the debt ceiling aren't just an inside-the-Beltway problem -- they're already a Wall Street problem, and they're becoming a Main Street problem.
There was little to celebrate Wednesday night after the Senate passed the legislation to re-open the government until January and raise the debt ceiling until February -- and for good reason. Not only did the entire shameful debacle cost the U.S. $24 billion so far and undermine our standing in the world economy, both of which could have lasting economic effects, but nearly everyone -- from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to Clinton-era Labor Secretary Robert Reich to shutdown booster Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) and shutdown blaster Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) -- agrees that the deal accomplishes little in the long term. The U.S. may still face a downgrade from a major credit rating agency (an action already taken by a Chinese agency) and everyone expects to rehash many of the same issues after the holidays.
And while the chattering class yammers on about the damage to the Tea Party brand and their future in the Republican establishment, they are blind to the real problem that continuing economic uncertainty could have in store for the average American. Economic uncertainty of this kind will invariably lead to market instability -- which means the average American's retirement savings could well take a marked hit as their elected officials continue their legislative can-kicking exercise well past Punxsutawney Phil's scheduled emergence.
Most folks with retirement accounts know from hard experience earned during the Great Recession that market fluctuations and a bad economy will hurt their retirement accounts. The steep decline in traditional pension plans (only 29 percent of civilian workers even have access to traditional pension plans) means that most Americans' retirements are increasingly beholden to the whims of the market which, after the last couple of years, is increasingly beholden to the whims of a legislative body either unable or unwilling to govern with the best interests of the country in mind.
The last downgrade, sparked by the previous debt ceiling crisis, wiped out between 5 and 7 percent of the stock markets' value, which was the biggest loss since the 2008 crisis. Interest rates on short-term Treasury bonds are already rising because of what Citigroup chief executive Michael Corbat called Congress' "dangerous flirtation with the debt ceiling." In other words, the political brinksmanship in which some on Capitol Hill increasingly wish to engage isn't just causing them problems with polls-takers: it's causing all of us problems in our wallets.
Congressional leaders are playing a dangerous game with their constituents' money, their livelihoods and their retirement savings. On Wednesday, all Congress did was flip over the hourglass on a game of chicken that cost our economy $24 billion and left America's future up in the air -- and, by doing so, may cause some of our hard-earned retirement savings to disappear into it.
Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.