Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Debt Limit Limited

In my last posting to this blog (“Ideology Versus Governing”), just before the scheduled vote to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, I wrote about what I felt was the larger issue emerging from this debate.  Namely, the emergence of what I called “legislative terrorists,” willing to take one of our greatest possessions – “the full faith and credit of the United States” –  and hold it hostage to a purely political agenda.  It is a “My way or else, at any price” mentality that has no place in this heterogeneous multi-cultural environment that is America.  So I wrote that the need to say “No” to that extremism was the greater crisis to be dealt with.

Unsurprisingly, Congress and the President chose to ignore my earnest plea.  And so what we had on August 2nd was one of the ugliest displays of bad government in America not seen in a very long time.  And it resulted in no real substantive solution to debt and economic growth.  But it did establish some very bad precedences we will have to live with for awhile.  So did anyone come out of this mess a winner?

Certainly not Speaker John Boehner, a generally decent fellow who was shown to be an emperor with no clothes.  His openness to negotiate a responsible, big-picture substantive solution to our needs was shut down by a controlling portion of his own party.  He could not lead his group, only run faster in the front to avoid being run over by his party.  And he stands without a loyal support team, notably Majority Leader Eric Cantor who stands at his back – with a knife marked “Future Speaker” poised just inches from Boehner’s back.  Sam Rayburn or Tip O’Neil he ain’t.

Certainly not President Barack Obama.  He probably got the biggest individual win – the debt ceiling was raised as he wanted, and there will be no more discussion / maneuvering about the debt limit until (thankfully) after the 2012 election.  We are spared at least one more grandstanding episode for awhile.  But after weeks of saying “Don’t call my bluff, Eric,” that is exactly what Eric et al did; the perception deepens that when pressed, the President will cave in on his principles.  When Obama first came into office, much ado was made about his reading of Doris Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” the tale of Lincoln’s creative maneuvering  of his political rivals to pursue his leadership through the Civil War.  I would suggest that on his current vacation Obama switch his reading to biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson – two presidents who were not afraid of presidential power and used it to move their agenda through hostile Congresses.  Strong leadership (versus headstrong leadership) is needed.

Certainly not Congress.  Its approval rating is 15% (a nicer way of saying “85% negative”).  And for the first time I can remember, over 2/3rds of Americans in a recent poll said that their own Congresspersons should not be reelected.  That is pretty astounding, considering that most of the time Americans feel that “my Representative / Senator is OK, it is yours that is the problem!”  The capstone proof of this Congress’s inability to govern was its decision to create a 12-member “Super Congress,” found nowhere in our Constitution.  The message is, “We cannot agree on how to govern, so let’s absolve ourselves of the responsibility and create another polarized committee who will mimic our disagreements, and we can blame them for Paralysis – Round 2.”  Just before Thanksgiving, we will be able to watch the whole dysfunction replay again.

Certainly not Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  These two Senate leaders were essentially pushed to the sidelines, while all attention was on the House Republicans and President Obama.  In the end, it was their silly “solution” to create the Super Congress which broke the stalemate but guaranteed us the upcoming “Government Fiasco – The Sequel.”  (Invisible) House Minority Leader (and a former Speaker) Nancy Pelosi can probably share a seat with them in the back of the movie house to watch this movie sequel play out.

Certainly not the Tea Party, although some commentators would have us believe that they were the big winners.  But they were not.  A number of them have set themselves up for defeat in the 2012 election by Republican rivals who will accuse them of underachieving and not delivering.  Or by a Democrat who will replay these Tea Party speeches against a backdrop of people without jobs, without teachers for their children, or adequate police and firefighters to protect them.  (Then again, Democrats have never shown much skill in capitalizing on campaign opportunities handed to them.)  But their biggest failure is how they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory – the potential offered for a $4 trillion cut in expenditures in exchange for some selective tax increases on the 2% wealthy class.  It is a failure to accept that more revenues, and the closing of discriminatory tax laws favoring “friends of Congress,” are absolutely necessary along with tax cuts to bring fiscal sanity to this country.  They gave up a very big prize because it was not pure enough.  But Americans never like purists for long.  Barry Goldwater, a highly principled man, said that he would “rather be Right than President.”  Well, he never became a President.  The Tea Party is likely to get its similar wish.

Certainly not We the American People.  There are no jobs in this debt ceiling bill.  There is no badly needed investment in places where we know it is needed.  There was no democratic process shown in the passing of this debt ceiling bill.  The people who claimed to be all about saving our economy, and that defaulting on the debt limit didn’t matter, sent the stock market down 1500 points within two weeks of passing their plan of salvation.  We were taken to the precipice.  And then we jumped.

Thanks, but no thanks to all involved.  This cast of characters is now on August recess.  We can only hope that they extend that recess as long as possible, and stay the hell away from Washington.  Because if your mantra is that “government is the problem,” and this is your idea of “helping us,” then it shows that you are the government and you are clearly the problem.  So stay away and quit making our lives worse.

We still have a new budget to pass for 2011-2012; we still have a Super Congress to bicker and non-legislate.  It is all going to look very similar to this August, making it a tough fall season for all news watchers.  My last posting on my Our Spiritual Way blog was about the virtue of Patience.  It is a virtue that is being severely tested right now in all of us.