Maybe We Need a Super Duper Committee

The deadline draws near. The so-called Super Committee is supposed to come up with more than a trillion dollars in savings by Wednesday. I never gave this committee much credence since it’s made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. Stalemate was inevitable.

Democrats on the committee came up with what they thought were dandy ideas for savings. The only problem? They weren’t real.

Republican efforts have been rejected, even though they contained the closing of tax loopholes to increase revenue. There doesn’t seem to be much hope for resolution. Those who are supposed to be wielding the axe do so in vain. If the Super Committee were a Pilgrim and the national debt were a turkey, there would be no Thanksgiving.

So what’s the solution?

Yeah, that should work. It’s the Washington way.

Throw Another Rich Person on the Fire

President Obama yesterday unveiled what he called his deficit reduction plan. Part of it was the usual smoke and mirrors—a supposed one trillion saved by pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Another one and a half trillion is supposed to be reduced by taxing the rich. Here we go again.

The mantra that never seems to end is that the rich aren’t paying their fair share. Never mind that the top 10% of earners pay about 70% of all income taxes. Never mind that nearly 50% of our citizens pay no income taxes at all. And never mind that even if you took all the money from millionaires and billionaires, you still wouldn’t come anywhere close to eliminating the national debt. You see, those are facts, and Mr. Obama doesn’t want to be bothered by facts—they’re a nuisance and get in the way of his plans.

Most analysts worth their laptops could see this coming:

Let’s be honest. Obama doesn’t really expect this to pass the Congress. He knows, without any doubt, that it will fail in the House; even his erstwhile Senate allies are not very allied with him this time around. So what’s the reason for this tax bombshell? It’s part of his reelection strategy: say you had a great plan to take care of the debt, complain that the do-nothing Republicans stopped it cold, and accuse them of catering to rich people. A nice, neat package.

Will the majority see through this? Stay tuned.

Downgrade Politics

If you are a Democrat, what is your message about the recent downgrade of the nation’s credit rating by S&P? That’s easy. You blame the Tea Party. You know, the ones who warned that an economic apocalypse was coming and that something drastic had to be done to avoid the downgrade. Democrats fear they will be held responsible, what with an added $5 trillion to the national debt in the past two and a half years. And never mind that if the Senate had taken seriously the Cut, Cap, and Balance bill passed by the House, the downgrade never would have occurred. No, circle the wagons and find a scapegoat.

I’ve noticed how coordinated these attacks are: the spokespersons don’t even bother to conceal the concerted effort. David Axelrod and John Kerry used the same terminology on the Sunday talk shows; they called this the Tea Party downgrade. Kerry even went so far as to suggest that the media shouldn’t even allow Tea Party types to have a voice because they are so fringe in their views.

As I noted in yesterday’s post, the rhetoric is outlandish:

Isn’t profiling one of our biggest concerns? Why not apply the term more accurately?

So the entire world waited with anticipation any words from the president that would ease the anxiety. He said nothing over the weekend. Finally, on Monday, he stepped to the podium to make everyone feel better. What did he give us? The same speech he has uttered for the past three years or so: tax the rich; build the infrastructure; set aside the wrangling and partisanship—all the while ignoring the fact that he is the greatest of all partisans and his ideological intransigence is the root of all the wrangling.

His performance had an immediate effect: the stock market plunged just as badly as it had last Thursday. All the gains made in the last year have now been eclipsed. We’re probably as bad off as we’ve been since the panic of late 2008.

So how will Obama spend most of his time now? Running for reelection, of course. Some are already suggesting his slogan for the next run.

Perfect.

Needed: Political Will & Courage

So the debt deal is history, in the sense that we don’t have to wade through the daily trauma of ups and downs. It’s not a solution, by any means. In fact, the “cuts” in the deal are only just cuts for the rate of future spending. They don’t actually cut back on what is current. This means, unless more drastic action is taken, we are still plunging deeper into debt over the next few years.

I’m not as disturbed by this as many of my conservative colleagues. I guess it’s because I never expected much to begin with. Even in the euphoria of the gains made in the last election, I remember writing on this blog that the real change agenda would not begin now; it would have to wait for 2012. The best we could hope for was to stop any huge new measures like Obamacare. I said then that the Republicans’ main task over the next two years would be to stop as many terrible policy choices as possible. They did make an honest attempt at that this time despite the media’s theme:

Stopgap measures like this debt/budget deal will be worse than useless unless more fundamental changes are made. I have a proposal that no one will accept, but I’ll make it anyway. How about returning to what the Constitution authorizes the federal government to do? That would save a lot of money immediately. There are numerous cabinet departments that have no validity constitutionally. Consider the budgets of the following:

  • Department of Labor: 12.8 billion
  • Department of Agriculture: 23.9 billion
  • Department of Energy: 29.5 billion
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development: 41.7 billion
  • Department of Education: 77.4 billion
  • Department of Transportation: 128 billion

Grand total: $313 billion. That’s for just one year. Carry that out over the next decade and see what savings would occur. And that doesn’t count the Big Daddy of them all—Health and Human Services, which comes in at 892 billion, dwarfing all the others combined.

Yes, I know, most of that is Medicare and Medicaid, and no one wants to talk about changing those. Yet they are just as unconstitutional as all the others noted above. I haven’t even mentioned Social Security, another system about to go bankrupt. The problem with these entitlements, as they are incorrectly called, is that we’ve made promises to people. Those promises must be kept, even though the programs are patently opposed to the Constitution. We need an intelligent plan to phase out of them while ensuring that no one who is dependent on them is harmed. But where is the political will to move forward on such a plan?

Will the courageous public servants please step forward?

In Praise of Harmony & Mutual Respect

The budget/debt ceiling bill passed the House last night, and the Senate is slated to vote on it today. Half of the Democrats opposed it; sixty-six Republicans also said no to it. The Democrats’ objections were that there were no tax increases, there were spending cuts, and it called for the Congress to send a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification. Republicans’ objections were that most of the spending cuts were too far down the road, there is the possibility for tax increases in the future if a special commission deems them necessary [although they would still have to pass both houses to take effect], and the debt ceiling was raised in the process.

I don’t have any sympathy with the Democrat objections, but I understand why some Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to support the measure. This is not a bill that makes a fundamental change. At the same time, I understand why the majority of Republicans went along with it: when you control only one part of the Congress and there is a president who will veto anything stronger, you go for the best deal you can get, and it does change the debate at least. No longer will Congress be pushing new spending programs; the discussion will now center on how to make effective cuts in spending. In other words, I see the strengths of both Republican positions.

What we have here is not a basic philosophical difference among most Republicans, but merely a tactical one. Is this not supportable because it doesn’t do enough, or is it instead the first step along an arduous policy road on the way to the ultimate goal?

I know some people’s passions are running high on this issue, and there are those calling for new leadership in the Republican party. Yet from other accounts I have read, even many of the Republicans who rejected this bill had words of praise for Speaker Boehner and his leadership team. They recognize he did his best, and they appreciate his efforts in a tough political climate. Although they may have voted against this specific piece of legislation, they are hopeful that it really can be a first step after all. They certainly need to pull together now if anything more significant is to be achieved. Initial reports indicate they can go forward unified in what they seek to accomplish overall.

It’s always nice to see harmony. Then, of course, there is the opposite of that. Yesterday, Vice President Biden met with disgruntled House Democrats to explain why he and the president support the bill. By all accounts, it was a heated meeting, and in the midst of that heat, a few verbal shots were fired. Apparently, the VP and/or other members of the Democrat caucus called members of the Tea Party “terrorists.”

Once again the Party of Civility leads the way into a new and brighter future where mutual respect forms the cornerstone of our political system.

Defining Compromise–The Obama Way

For the third time, the House of Representatives—this time with zero Democrat votes—sent a bill to the Senate to deal with the budget and the debt ceiling. And for the third time, the Senate has turned it down. President Obama gave another speech—this is getting really old—talking about how the Republicans need to learn how to compromise.  He’s had three options from Republicans, the last one pretty close to what was almost agreed to last weekend, except for the provision requiring the Congress to send a balanced budget amendment to the states for their consideration. Democrats always say they’re in favor of a balanced budget until they have to vote for one. Compromise? How is that defined by our president?

And just what would be his way, if he could get it?

Foolishness. Utter foolishness.

The Moral Equivalence Fallacy

I was introduced to the concept of moral equivalence when I was working on my doctorate in history. It came up in explanations of the Cold War. Moral equivalence, in that context, meant that the Cold War was the result, not of Soviet aggression, but of a mutual misunderstanding of one another. Further, it posited that there was no real difference morally between the Soviets and America; both were equally to blame for the Cold War.

As an explanation for the Cold War, I found it very dissatisfying. I knew about the horrific system set up in the Soviet Union, and it in no way compared to the American system of government. I also knew of the systematic repression and genocide that occurred under Stalin’s reign, and which continued after his death. Then there were the broken promises and the takeover of occupied countries, thereby setting up satellite regimes totally subservient to The Soviets. Therefore, I rejected that explanation of the Cold War because it overlooked the obvious brutality that existed in the USSR.

Why does this come to mind now? The moral equivalence idea continues to pop up in other contexts. It has come to the forefront in the current debt crisis debate. We are told over and over that Congress can’t get its act together, thereby making no distinction between the actions of the two political parties. In the public mind, they are both to blame for the mess. Never mind that the Republicans have offered solutions, only to have them shot down by Senate Democrats and President Obama. Don’t acknowledge that the Democrat-led Senate hasn’t offered a budget for over 800 days. Just keep chanting the mantra of moral equivalence.

What’s even more disturbing is how this view has come to dominate the political cartoons, even from conservative cartoonists. Here are some examples:

Notice that this cartoon makes no distinction between Boehner and Obama; both are depicted as little children arguing over how to steer the car.

How about this one?

Again, there is no moral difference in this image: Boehner and Obama both doing the same thing. Another one:

You see, if the NFL can come to a solution for its disagreements, why can’t Washington? Well, how about showing who is blocking the ball? Not in this case. I’ll give you two more examples:

In the first one, voters are angry at both parties, blaming both for the debt impasse; in the second, both parties are playing chicken with the looming default [which is not really going to occur anyway, since the interest on the debt will be paid regardless what happens]. This type of unthinking, undiscriminating moral equivalence gives a false impression of what’s really taking place in the Congress.

One cartoonist got it right, though:

It’s nice to witness at least one example of clear thinking.