Our collective play date in Washington has taken a break. The sandbox is
empty, the toys gone. Some of the children pretending to be our elected
representatives did not play well with others.
As John McEnroe was fond of bellowing, You cannot be serious!
The Great Budget Near-Disaster of 2011 has concluded round one. After
months of wrangling that was frequently surreal, Congress has agreed to a
deal that raises the debt ceiling, thereby at least forestalling a default
on obligations by the United States government for the first time in our
history. It also reduces spending by an amount thats about the same as
the amount of increase in the debt ceiling.
Then they passed the hard work on to an as yet unnamed super-commission of
12 legislators, six Republicans and six Democrats, assigned to conjure up
another $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction in the next year. If they fail,
automatic cuts occur in both defense spending and Medicare at about the
same time as the Bush tax cuts expire.
So, a smaller group of the same people who could not agree on much of
anything while the debate slithered through Congress will now try to agree
on the same issues they could not resolve previously. What could possibly
In the pathetic little agreement that does exist, Republicans successfully
protected even the most odious tax breaks for the wealthy and
corporations. (Tax breaks for corporate jets and yachts? Those are
essential? Really?) They also made sure there was no tax increase for
the wealthiest 5% of American income earners.
They even forced a vote on a balanced budget amendment despite knowing
there is absolutely no chance it will receive anywhere near the 67 votes
needed in the Senate.
The president got a deal that prevents a default but he succumbed to the
realities of vote counting there were simply not enough votes in the
House to support his plan and he didnt do much to change that reality.
As David Letterman cleverly said, Obama compromised with the Republicans
in the same way Custer compromised with Sitting Bull.
The great irony here is the public actually supported Obamas so-called
balanced approach that included both spending cuts and revenue increases.
Virtually every poll taken on the subject showed about two-to-one support
for the combination of spending cuts and tax reform as opposed to the
cuts-only plan now in place.
As is becoming a pattern, the president and Democrats did a horrible job
of selling a plan that already had public support thereby successfully
snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Again.
The Great Agreement contains no major or even minor reforms to entitlement
programs, minimal defense cuts, no tax reform that closes giant loopholes
or increases taxes on the wealthiest Americans; in fact it doesnt do much
at all, leaving the hard work to the super commission yet to come.
Nor is there so much as a word about job creation. There seems to be
little debate that the ongoing malaise in the job market is the cause
of much of our budget woes. According to the Congressional Budget
Office, an unemployment rate of about 5%, as opposed to the current
9.2%, would provide sufficient revenue and create an economic multiplier
impact that would put the deficits back to a manageable level and we
wouldnt even be having this debate. Jobs, apparently, are no longer a
priority for Congress.
Lost in all of the silliness and rhetoric is the fact that none of the
proposals discussed actually balances the budget for decades. The entire
debate was about reducing the amount of overspending
Especially troubling was the fact that Speaker of the House John Boehner,
despite his best efforts, lost control of his own troops in what must have
been some kind of bloodless coup. The Republicans in Congress are now
controlled by tea party darling Eric Cantor of Virginia and his merry band
of freshman absolutists. They believe compromise is weakness, that their
principles are more important than yours or mine and that they are
entitled to 100% of what they want 100% of the time.
Thank God they werent around to destroy the compromises that led to the
Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, every
additional amendment and almost every piece of significant legislation in
They claim they are just doing what their constituents want. Thats
It seems unlikely their constituents wanted them to take the country to
the brink of economic catastrophe just so they would get their way. Or to
protect all tax loopholes and make sure the very rich need not worry about
even a tiny tax increase. Or to make seniors pay for their own Medicare.
Or attempt to reduce the deficit on the backs of the poor, the sick, the
young, the elderly and whats left of the middle class.
The only thing thats been accomplished, really, is Congress has delayed
the work they claimed to be so diligently undertaking and created a
commission to do their jobs for them. There is no reason to assume the
legislators who will comprise the commission will be any more successful
than was Congress since it will be the same people engaged in the same
There is much work to be done and little time in which to do it.
So, of course, Congress has now adjourned for a five week vacation... Im
sorry... Congress has recessed for five weeks of district work sessions.
Uh-huh. You really cant make this stuff up.