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Posted at 03:26 PM ET, 07/29/2011

The debt ceiling debate: How it looks from King Farm

Melissa Gilley’s 11-month-old daughter cried when she saw me. That happens to me a lot.

“You don’t want to cry for the Washington Post,” Gilley told sweet little Emberlyn, who continued crying.

We were near the deli section at the Safeway in King Farm, the sprawling development of houses, condos, townhomes, parks, trees, and shops in Rockville. I was part of a hit squad of five reporters combing the development today for opinions on the debt ceiling debate, which feels like it has been raging since the Paleoproterozoic Era.
The debate happening here, as seen from King Farm. (J. Scott Applewhite - AP)

We chose King Farm because it has a good mix of political attitudes, ages, nationalities and connections to the world. We wanted to know how people’s views of the debate were shaped by their attachments to the largesse of the government, through tax breaks, Social Security checks, subsidized mortgages, student loans, their jobs, whatever.

Also: Had the debate changed the way they saw the world?

My job was to speak with young families. I approached Gilley, a 28-year-old stay-at-home mom and King Farm resident, just around lunchtime. She picked up Emberlyn from the shopping cart, which soothed any concerns the little girl had about me or dealing with the press.

Raised Republican and still tilting in that direction, Gilley said she viewed the debate not through a current connection to government -- she couldn’t think of one, not even a student loan  -- but through a future one.

“I’m concerned about what it means for her future,” Gilley said, meaning Emberlyn, now quiet, distracted by a very full cart, and certainly unaware that her mother primarily meant this: Social Security. Put simply, Gilley thinks what she called too much unrestrained Democratic spending threatens the future of key social safety net programs.

“I’ve always believed in less government, but I want there to be choices for my family, like if my daughter wants to apply for a grant one day or something,” she said. “The Democrats tend to add more to the government, and they start raising taxes to pay for it all.”

She was raised on this view and still clutches it tight. Now, if the government doesn’t use this opportunity to get spending priorities straight, Gillen fears the social safety net programs that have been around for decades will be threatened. She has been dipping in and out of coverage of the debate, with that thought in mind.

“You think about these things a lot when you are a parent,” she said.

Before I spoke with Gilley -- and before I realized it would be advantageous to find a good air conditioned interview location given the absurd heat -- I met Miguel Almada and his family at the nearby Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park, named after the little boy with a rare disease who captivated the world through his poetry and messages of peace before his death in 2004.

Near a statue of him in the park, etched on a wall, there is one of his sayings about about the world: “Peace is possible...it can begin simply over a game of chess and a cup of tea.”

Almada, a Staten Island, N.Y., resident visiting friends in King Farm, had a camera bag slung over his shoulder. His two children played nearby, with the playground all to themselves. “You can’t stop them in the heat,” Almada said. “They want to play.” He shrugged his shoulders. He was sweating. Me too.

Almada, who immigrated from Argentina 20 years ago, is a contractor. He restores old houses. He leans Democrat, but as he put it, “I can move off my party if it doesn’t work but I think it works.”

Almada sees the debate primarily through the prism of what it means for his business: A default would raise interest rates, which would make it more expensive or impossible for his clients to get loans, which would hurt his family’s bottom line.

“That would be bad -- very, very bad for me and also my clients,” Almada said.

But he does not blame the Republicans, per se. He does not blame the Democrats, per se. He blames both parties. He thinks they are “playing political games that benefit their own party.”

“This is a very real crisis and an important moment for our country,” he said. “I think it will be fixed, though. I think it will be fixed for the good of everyone. I hope so.”

In the print edition of the Post, you’ll find many more characters and voices from our hot day in King Farm. I hope you’ll weigh in below with your connection to the debt ceiling debate and how it shapes your own view.

By  |  03:26 PM ET, 07/29/2011

 
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