Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Debt Ceiling Blame Game is No Fun

Please don't scream.

I know you're tired of this topic. I know you've had your fill of debates and figures and percentages and rhetoric. Washington's intransigence regarding the debt ceiling parades all that's wrong with modern politics for all the world to see, and it's not a pretty sight.

Especially since it's the Republicans who appear to be clinging desperately to the most unpopular of positions.

Not only unpopular, but not even entirely logical.

Are They Trying to Run or Ruin Our Country?

True, by their reticence to make significant spending cuts, Democrats don't seem to fully appreciate the gravity of this situation. Or the seriousness with which Republicans - and many Americans - want government waste sopped up off of the Treasury's marble floors... and down its marble steps, and down the street, where it's been gushing for years.

Unfortunately, however - and some conservatives probably blame the "liberal" media for this - it's the Republicans who can't seem to put together a challenge to the Democrats' proposals upon which they can all agree. I've never credited Tea Partiers with much competence on the financial side of governance, but now their severe naivete and hard-line bullying seem increasingly to be jeopardizing any Republican chance of taking control of this controversy.

As you well know, Tea Partiers have been railing against new taxes for the wealthiest five percent of American wage-earners. And while I'm not convinced, either, that taxing the "Five Percenters" more will put much of a dent in the debt, it's all a matter of public perception, isn't it? America's middle class is getting tired of the same old "higher taxes eliminate jobs" soundtrack. If that were true, why haven't more of us gone back to work?  Unemployment remains high despite no new taxes being implemented.

Tea Partiers have also launched some self-defeating attacks against Social Security lately, mostly at the behest of some Five Percenters who don't understand why everybody can't fully fund their own retirements. Here again, many Americans understand that Social Security needs to be overhauled, but few middle class voters want it eliminated. Many Republicans who are senior citizens spent their careers thinking Social Security and Medicare were good things, not the beastly Communistic thievery they've suddenly been tagged as being by radio talk show jockeys.

To make matters worse, Republicans tried to rig multiple votes on the debt ceiling so that the issue could be pushed into next year's election cycle, and ostensibly upset President Obama's re-election chances. But that came across as being simply goofy and petty.

And it's become extremely difficult to take many of the Republicans seriously on the debt ceiling debate anyway, since many of them voted to approve all seven of the debt ceiling increases Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, wanted. Why the sudden, seething rancor against debt limits, if not for pure partisan politics?

First, I'd Like to Blame...

I'm not sure you can blame the Boehner's, Cantor's, and McConnell's of this rapidly-crumbling Republican front for the mess that's been made of conservative attempts at staunching spending. Instead, I'm tempted to blame the neo-con radio talk show hosts who themselves barely understand federal macroeconomic principles. Let's face it: if they did, they wouldn't be talking smack on the radio.

I also suspect our fabulous Five Percenters have played a significant role in this debacle. They likely thought they had a good thing going by sparking the Tea Party fringe to begin with, and inciting a form of class warfare against the foolish poor. Meanwhile, the wealth divide in the United States continues to widen at the expense of the middle class, threatening to destabilize the social equation sustained by middle-class tax perks.

It's been suggested in the liberal press that two of America's most notorious Five Percenters, the Koch brothers, have quietly been funding neo-con agitation for years, hoping - albeit nonsensically - to wipe out the middle class because we cost them too much money. If it wasn't for needing to protect the masses from industrial pollution, unsafe working conditions, predatory monopolies, and banking fraud - created mostly by the companies owned by the Five Percenters - government could be much smaller and less costly.

But the Blame Also Goes To...

As the clock ticks down to Zero-Hour on August 2, the inability of Republicans to galvanize a fiscally-responsible and politically-palatable consensus will likely mean that Democrats may get not only a sloppy debt ceiling win laden with liberal pork. They'll also have won a major public relations battle in the minds of many Americans for whom this debate has crystallized a belief that it's been Washington's fault all along.

But it hasn't been, has it? And this is where the Republicans would really miss their ideological chance.

The main reason why we're facing trillions in debt is because we've developed a taste for irresponsible government spending. We put into office the people who reflect our own habits and mindsets. And we don't have the backbone to vote out of office those same people when their fallibility is proven. Because that fallibility is ours, too.

The rich like making more money. The middle class like loopholes and deductions, and letting the government deal with life's unpleasantries and banalities like poverty and education. And the poor like the entitlements that give them a remarkably decent standard of living compared to the poor in other countries.

Changing voter attitudes in a democracy isn't going to happen in one or two election cycles. Tea Partiers have been betraying their woeful ignorance of history by pouncing on our debt crisis and casting it as a travesty foisted on an innocent public by the Democratic party. But they conveniently forget that the people legislating our debt have been voted into office by their fellow Americans.

As much as our problems in Washington are political, they're also social, aren't they?

The true appeal of the Republican party to me has been their insistence that personal responsibility trumps government handouts. That small government is better for economic development than big government. And that politicians need to treat taxes like an investment, not a toy store. But are these the attitudes of our country as a whole? I don't think so.

This means we need a better strategy than simply refusing to compromise. Am I dumb enough to expect that conservatives can walk into Washington and expect to wow liberals with these attributes to the point where compromise isn't necessary? Of course not. Instead, what I expect is for conservative legislators to scrutinize legislation with a fine-tooth comb and negotiate with their liberal counterparts so that as much conservative ideology as possible gets reflected in what gets done.

Hey, What a Concept

Granted, today is only July 27, which by Washington standards, still gives us plenty of time before the day of reckoning on August 2. Who knows what the pressure caused by a looming Democratic victory might do for a conservative compromise at the 11th hour.

Because if Tea Partiers continue to sabotage the conservative wing's efforts at constructing a bill that can pass both houses of Congress and the White House, then the failure they trigger could extend all the way to next fall's elections.

Wouldn't it be interesting, though, if every politician in Washington worked on the budget like this was their last term in office.

If none of them worried about their electability after August 2, what kind of sustainable legislation might they come up with?
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