November 21, 2011: Politics and Debt and Dysfunction   1 comment

November 21, 2011

Symbolism from Nero and the Maginot Line

How fitting. The great negotiation of the Congress in August 2011 resulted in the great Debt Reduction Super Committee of September 2011. Together the members were to work, discuss, negotiate, compete, haggle, bargain, trade, demand, compromise, give, take, and ultimately complete their task. Historically, committees have come prepared to do many of these things, and occasionally all. But lately, our elected officials will have none of it. Republicans wanted nothing to do with higher revenue (taxes) and Democrats wanted nothing to do with deeper cuts (health, welfare, essential services.) In the end, the two sides could not, or would not negotiate. By loading the committee with strict “no-tax” Republicans, and committed “no slash and burn entitlement” Democrats, the result, it appears, was inevitable.

Long before I read Shakespeare, I recall seeing a phrase etched on a building in Washington, D.C. “What’s past is prologue.” One can paraphrase, re-characterize, or create a new meaning from the metaphor, but at the end of the day, Shakespeare’s meaning was clear: Our past is inexorably linked to our life today, just as what we do today, is linked to outcomes in the future. Shakespeare may have been influenced by events in the past, but as with much of his work, the Bard’s words have meaning for other lives and other times. It applies to life today, although on a larger, global scale. The failure of the committee was predictable. The lack of any attempt to avoid failure was, sadly, predictable too.

We live in an age—hopefully, a mercifully short age—where pandering is more important than principle. The tendency is for difficult problems to be assigned to a committee, presented to the President, to Congress, or both, and then considered, debated, accepted, or rejected. Independent—non-congress member—committees were able to complete their task. For example, the White House’s fiscal commission’s co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson discharged their duties and released their recommendations on reducing the country’s budget deficit. Almost no one would have been happy, but it’s the nature of compromise, i.e. when everyone is unhappy, that real work is done. It doesn’t matter to any card-carrying Republican that the not-immortal Ronald Reagan raised taxes multiple times to deal with the budget in the real world. But too many on the righteous-right chose to “make a stand”.

It’s unrealistic to expect the government of the United States to function without revenue, although that is clearly the desire of lobbyist Grover Norquist, who has more to say about Republican Party politics than either Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell or Speaker of the House John Boehner. Norquist, the unelected shadow-sovereign for the true-believers on the right and the source of the infamous “no tax pledge” makes it clear that those who support tax increases will become targets at election time.

Marching orders were given to the Republican committee members by GOP power brokers, the Tea Party, and other right voices, long before they held any meetings took place or began any discussions. Actually, it was surprising to see public acknowledgement of those orders. Speaker Boehner, among others, ruled out compromise before the November 23rd deadline was even in sight.

In the days leading up to the 2010 elections Politico reported on the Republican agenda if, when, they took control of the House:

Obama “has an enormous opportunity to be in charge if he listens carefully to the American people and if he operates in the framework of what they want,” Gingrich added. But if Obama’s listening to Republican leadership, he’d hear that he’s not wanted. “To the extent the president wants to work with us, in terms of our goals, we’d welcome his involvement,” Boehner told [Sean] Hannity.  “There will be no compromise on stopping runaway spending, deficits and debt. There will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) in an interview last week on conservative Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “There will be no compromise on stopping Democrats from growing government and raising taxes,” added Pence, who may leave the House GOP leadership to prepare for a presidential run. And many of the potential incoming Republicans have stated that they wouldn’t budge in trying to meet Democrats halfway. “When it comes to spending, I’m not compromising. I don’t care who, what, when or where, I’m not compromising,” Ken Buck, the Republican Senate nominee in Colorado, told The Washington Post.

Consider the passages in this non-invitation to cooperation:

Gingrich says that Obama should listen carefully to the American people. But there is too much bravado as the former Speaker suggests that all of the American people speak with one voice with no supporting data to back up his assertion.

Boehner told Sean Hannity that “To the extent the president wants to work with us, in terms of our goals, we’d welcome his involvement”. Note “Our Goals”. What about the economy? And by the way, where was Boehner in 2002 and 2003? He was marching lockstep with George W. Bush off to war in Iraq without any mechanism to pay for it. Why didn’t Boehner tell the American people that the price of war in Iraq was a reduction in Medicare, a cut in Social Security, or delayed or cancelled repairs to the nation’s infrastructure?

Mike Spence, Congressman from Indiana offered not an open hand but a clenched fist: “There will be no compromise on stopping runaway spending, deficits and debt. There will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare.”  No compromise means, I assume no compromise. And there was none. Pardon the repetition, but why didn’t Mr. Spence—at any time during the lead up to the invasion—tell the American people that without taxes, the price of war in Iraq was a reduction in Medicare, a cut in Social Security, or delayed or cancelled repairs to the nation’s infrastructure? The spending didn’t matter then, but conveniently it matters now.

Beyond the pronouncements by the Republican Party faithful, there was precious little interest in working to achieve cooperative change. Instead, Republicans, like field commanders of old, were told to what to do. Hold the line. No retreat. Not one meter. For them, the principle, the ideology is what mattered. Not the truth of their argument(s). Not the priorities of the government. Once Obama was elected it became the ideology of the right to create their own Maginot Line. And the GOP members have stuck to it. Like Nero watching the fires in Rome, the “No Compromisers” continue to legislate from the “my way or the highway” perspective.

Shed a tear everyone. Democracy is on hold until the Right in America decides to come back to the table and agrees to speak with the rest of the congress as equals. The right doesn’t speak for me, and it doesn’t speak for all of America. They may return to civility, but I won’t bet my future Medicare and Social Security on it.

David Steffen

Introduction

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© David Steffen 2011

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One response to “November 21, 2011: Politics and Debt and Dysfunction

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  1. glutenfri gulrotkake
    Okay post, but not the best Ive seen exactly. You should step it up or glutenfri gulrotkake will eat your position.

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