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?

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