Saturday, July 23, 2011

What's a Budget To Do?

When is a budget not a budget? I would assert that a budget which does not deal with real numbers is not a budget. A proposal where there is no give and take, where no one will compromise, is an empty proposal. We are hearing the House Republicans -- most specifically the so-called tea party advocates -- claim that they were elected to cut government spending and shrink the size of government. We are seeing these representatives digging in. Are they in a foxhole as recently claimed by Speaker Boehner or are they digging their own graves and that of their movement as voters see their positions as injurious to the majority?

We have been faced with the childishness and churlishness of Eric Cantor -- he of the exaggerated Southern accent spoken with curled lip and sneer. Was this posturing, this intransigence to actual negotiations, a desired outcome of divided government? Did the voters vote for real change in 2008 and 2010? If so, just which change were they seeking? Was it the hope and change promised by a Barack Obama or was it the instantaneous paralysis promised by the Tea Party seeking to deflate government?

We live in an age of instant gratification, from scratch off lottery tickets to on line voting for various "idols", Americans have become accustomed to immediate results. The new Congress seems to be in disarray, with members voting for all sorts of "symbolic resolutions" but producing no actual legislation to improve the economy or produce jobs. They claim the monies donated to the stimulus were failures, while ignoring the rebound of the automotive industry and the infrastructure improvements across the country. Just recently (Friday, July 22), billions loaned to Chrysler were repaid to the taxpayers.

Could the stimulus have been more robust, could American businesses have stepped up more? Certainly, but should these efforts have been dismissed? Many newly elected representatives claim that "government regulations" have held back progress. For example recently trying to remove regulations about CFLs in light fixtures (which have shown to be more energy efficient). The Representatives also stopped using recyclable plastics in their dining room -- a further retreat from progress -- but surely necessary to preserve the financial stability of the country! By this time in her tenure as Speaker in 2009, the Nancy Pelosi led House had already passed significant legislation which was sent on to the Senate. Of course, that deliberative body bogged down many of these initiatives as self important committees debated further and Republicans filibustered almost everything. These steps toward gridlock in legislation almost killed health care and did stop initiatives such as the Dream Act and tax reform, foreshadowing the inability to legislate which is seen now.

As this is being written, Speaker Boehner has walked away from discussions with the White House. The debt limit ceiling, due to expire in less than two weeks, has not been raised. The middle class, which needs the promised protections under discussion, is being disregarded. Revenues which have supposedly been part of the Presidential bargaining position are again being dropped by the Republicans. Many ideas have been reported as on the table, from raising the age at which Medicare takes effect, dropping the current formulas for calculating Social Security COLAs, adding more unemployment benefits, dropping home mortgage deductions for mortgages over $500,000. The President has repeatedly spoken about taking away loopholes for oil companies and corporate jet owners. He indicated that millionaires should pay more than they currently pay. It was reportedly recently that the top 1% of earners in this country own 90% of all holdings in the US. The gaps between rich and poor are continuing to expand. Incomes have remained flat for the middle class since the1970s. As expenses increase -- prices for cars, homes, and a college education have jumped enormously during the last 40 years -- parents today do not expect that their children will have a higher earning potential than they had. Savings are much harder to come by. Interest rates are flat and the stock market gain is not a given, as many learned in 2008.

How does one fix this? The country needs more income, the government needs to spend more wisely, belts do need to be tightened. Paying off the trillions in debt we now have will not be addressed by a balanced budget amendment or votes about cuts and caps. The social safety nets still need to be protected. We need Social Security and Medicare to remain as viable options for our elderly and current seniors. Can we make small changes? Yes. Could we cut Defense spending? Yes. Should legislation be passed to keep the FAA solvent and small airports open? Of course. Can meaningful legislation be passed to get this country working again, to have a real budget, to relieve the debt ceiling issue? Yes, this can and should happen. This is not happening in a vacuum, it is happening in a real crisis. There is real unemployment. There is a real need for economic recovery. We need for responsible leaders to step up and lead. We need Speaker Boehner to manage his caucus by demonstrating leadership. We need Mitch McConnell to earn the money he is paid by the American taxpayer and not decide his number one job should be o keep the President as a one term leader, but rather to it should be to bring his members to the table to effect a compromise. The gang of six in the Senate thought they had a bargain the other day and great ebullience spread across the town. The so-called "Big Deal" is apparently no longer on the table and gone are the bargains made then. However, face to face discussions cannot work if Boehner is not empowered to accept any compromises and has to keep going back to his base. The President keeps finding a moving target on the table, more like quicksilver -- fast and difficult to pick up.

Democrats want to be able to support the President. He needs to protect their sacred cows, although he may tweak them in some fashion. Nancy Pelosi and Leader Reid need to be more at the table, VP Biden needs to stay involved. This should be the last time the President goes the extra mile. One cannot reach out to a closed fist or mind. I believe the debt ceiling will be raised although it may be at the last minute and deflate the value of America's finances internationally. This is tragic and should have been avoided. What do you think should be done? What cuts would you make?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What's a Fan To Do?

I am probably the last person to be called a sports fanatic -- but I do consider myself a fan. I grew up outside Boston and still consider myself a member of the "Red Sox nation." As a child I regularly traveled to Fenway Park to root for the "Sox". Subsequently I have spent many years cheering in vain, while waiting for the pennant to come to Boston. When the team finally won the World Series, I was thrilled. Did I follow every game and the weekly standings? Did I know the batting average of each hitter or the ERA of the starting pitchers? Nope! But were they still "my team" -- you bet!

This year has seen another Boston team end a long drought at the playoff and Stanley cup stakes as the Bruins beat Vancouver for their first win in a long time. Did I cheer for the former home team guys? Of course! Especially since our Capitals got knocked out in the second round!

Those who know me in my current Maryland neighborhood, know that I have cheered for many years for the Washington Redskins and have pennants from their now remote Super Bowl wins hanging in my family room. I have been embarrassed over the recent antics of some team members and the current owner as the team passed season after season with a losing record, even rarely beating the most disliked opponent of all -- the Dallas Cowboys. So when we did not make the playoffs and Dallas did not either. That was fine with me!

In basketball our Washington Wizards were again hopeless and hapless. No gazillionaires dominated their full court press. They have only once won the NBA championship and that was more than 30 years ago when they were known as the Bullets! But again this year the team press releases promised new heights for their draft picks and the roster of little known players. Their road record this year was among the worst in the league. Oh well, guess this helps their ranking for the draft, somehow. Have you heard? Pro basketball players and owners are also involved in salary disputes this year?

Against this back drop we have a lockout for the scheduled Fall Football Season of 2011. The billionaire owners and the millionaire players are fighting about who gets which amount of the revenues from the proceeds of the game, licensed sales and Media revenues. The fans who may usually look forward to a Sunday afternoon or Monday night battle among NFL teams might have to point their remote controls in a different direction this year. This fight between those who do not have to worry about a weekly paycheck might just find there is little empathy for their disagreement among Americans who have been struggling to keep their home values above water or hold onto their jobs. The median salary for a player on a team such as the Washington Redskins was almost a million dollars. Many players far exceeded that amount. The Social Security Administration currently lists the annual salary for the average US worker to be approximately $40,000 -- about two weeks pay for the median Redskin player. (I do know that the average player plays for a limited number of years and needs to get paid well for their prime years ... but they still do have earning power after they leave the game and can invest for their future years.) The 'Skins and others just might find their fan base disappearing when they finally get around to settling these petty disputes which have little value in the lives of most Americans. Maybe families will find a reason to play together rather than watch TV passively; they might investigate local cultural opportunities or even have conversations with each other. Maybe when the teams do start playing again not many fans will care about supporting overpaid “superstars” or pandering to the whims of rich bullies. Perhaps they will find that the vast revenues they are squabbling about are no longer options.

Enjoy the Fourth of July weekend. Celebrate the latest win for the American women's soccer team, they play for the love of the game! What might you do if Sunday afternoons do not offer football this fall? I just might find some books to read.