Could the David Petraeus scandal sabotage fiscal cliff talks?

Congress needs to focus on a debt-reduction deal to protect the economy. But a tawdry sex scandal may prove to be a dangerous distraction

Gen. David Petraeus pauses during a media conference in 2004
(Image credit: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The David Petraeus sex scandal is getting weirder by the moment. First, Petraeus, a long-revered former general, resigned as CIA chief after the FBI discovered he had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. And now, another top general, John Allen, is under investigation for exchanging possibly inappropriate emails with Jill Kelley, the Florida socialite who set the whole drama in motion by telling the FBI about threatening emails sent to her by Broadwell, who allegedly saw Kelley as a rival for Petraeus' affections. And then there's the FBI agent who was told to stay out of the case after colleagues discovered he had sent Kelley shirtless photos of himself... With all this swirling intrigue causing lawmakers to vow to get to the bottom of the tawdry mess, will Congress really be able to focus on more pressing matters — such as preventing the economy from plunging off the fiscal cliff at the end of next month?

The scandal is a dangerous distraction: "Now is the not the time to become preoccupied with sordid love scandals," says Henry Blodget at Yahoo Finance. There are only 50 or so days left to avert the fiscal cliff, a barrage of tax hikes and spending cuts that could trigger a recession in the new year. Members of Congress are vowing to look into the FBI's handling of the Petraeus case, but if they let this distraction delay a fiscal-cliff deal, the result could be disastrous for the economy.

"Petraeus sex scandal: Does it put the whole nation at risk?"

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The affair could actually be a blessing in disguise: Under normal circumstances, high drama like the debt-deal talks would attract round-the-clock media coverage, says Liz Marlantes at The Christian Science Monitor. Partisans on both sides would be busy posturing for the press, digging in to gain leverage and impress their political base. But now that the Petraeus scandal "has sucked up virtually all the oxygen in the nation's capital," politicians might actually be able to focus on getting the job done without worrying about the "media glare."

"Could Petraeus scandal enable fiscal cliff deal by diverting media glare?"

Time will tell: The "real fireworks" haven't even begun, say John Bresnahan and Jonathan Allen at Politico. With House and Senate committees looking into everything from how the FBI handled the Petraeus case to how Petraeus handled terrorist attack in Benghazi, it's anybody's guess what the next bombshell will be. Some lawmakers seem eager to let Petraeus' messy departure fade, but with so many unanswered questions — why wasn't Congress, or President Obama, kept in the loop? — it's way too early to say where this will lead.

"Hill digs in on Petraeus scandal"

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