Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Debt Crisis: Let’s All Think About Getting Re-elected

We now have another set of competing proposals from the House and the Senate for avoiding the August deadline set for the debt debate. It is nice to see that Washington is so concerned with the issue that they are willing to throw out silly vagueries about what they will do sometime down the road, maybe, when we can get to possibly discussing making a cut or two to the Federal budget. To recap, we are $1.6T over budget this year. We are spending $1.6T more this year then we took in in revenue, and everyone is talking about what we will be doing over the next 10 years. For the Democrats in the Senate under Mr. Reid’s leadership, the plan is to cut $2.7T over 10 years without touching entitlements. A little over a Trillion is saved from the discretionary budget, and a Trillion is saved from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On a first impression, anyone, Democrat or Republican, who was really planning on spending another Trillion or so dollars on Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 10 years should not only not be re-elected, they should be tarred-and-feathered (does that count as vitriolic hate speech?). If Defense is not first and center on any plan to reduce the deficit then it is meaningless, that is a given. Anything that does not address Medicare second is also a joke and should be treated as such. The plan allows the Democrats to minimize the debt and taxes issue in the 2012 election by raising the debt ceiling through 2013. It also allows them to say “we saved entitlements”. In this way Republicans can be painted as the evil un-compromisers willing to throw Granny under the bus. They can also keep raising taxes on the evil rich as an election issue by keeping the details to a minimum.
In the Republican plan we see their desire to keep the debt issue front and center through the election year. Raising the debt limit for 6 months puts the fight right in the beginning of the Presidential Primary season, allowing everyone running to sandbag political points off the debate. The news coverage of stump speeches relating to the debate will be worth tens of millions in free advertising. The White House will be fighting it from all sides, which of course is the point to each sides intransigence. It is all election metrics and nothing else. The Republican plan sets up this fight, and continues the attempts to whip up their base. The notion that in six months, in the middle of a Presidential election year, Republicans will stand up and say we need to cut Medicare and raise the Social Security eligibility age is at best ridiculous. The plan also makes the balanced budget amendment a center piece of the legislation. While it would be nice to have some sort of actual restraint on the power of the Federal government, this one is a non-starter and has been from the beginning. There is no chance for the amendment to get two-thirds of both houses of Congress. The point of the vote would of course be 30 second election commercials saying “Democrat X voted against a balanced budget amendment”. You also have the issue of turning the House into the Senate when it comes to budgets and taxes. The Senate and it’s rules serve a function to protect the Republic from the swings of the popular electorate, and that is a good thing. The House of Representatives though is the people’s house, and it should remain as such. The Republicans are really enjoying their place at the table because of a two year swing in popular opinion, and locking in budget and tax authority to a super-majority would have removed that. From a practical perspective, even if you could get the amendment through both Houses, there is virtually no chance of it passing three-quarters of the states. If you do not use the convention process, then you only need to convince the majority of one house in thirteen state (or the unicameral legislature in weird old Nebraska) that this is a bad idea. If you are not considering any particular rules in individual states then this means convincing less than 200 people that this is bad for the country. Not to difficult a proposition in the long run.
The President’s speech did little to change the metrics of this fight, mainly by not saying anything of any substance. The two issues of the debt ceiling and the long term deficit are intertwined at the moment. They will of course untangle these issues to vote on a debt limit increase, that is a given. The posturing makes for good TV and polling, but neither side is actually going to stand up and say lets really cut something of significance. To do so would then lock you in to a position, always dangerous going into an election cycle. Everyone’s posturing and playing to the base is the point of all this drama. The need for a real change in the structure of government spending should be blatantly obvious to everyone, but do not expect any change to the status quo tomorrow, or August 2nd, or in 6 months or 15 months from now. There is an election to win don’t you know, and that is what is important to them; because without complete and total super-majority control of our government by one party in our two-party system how could you actually expect anyone to govern?

1 comment:

  1. ...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall be run by two parties with extreme idiologies and politicians that stand by their party line, and look only to get re-elected regardless of the impact on the people.

    The system is no longer working for the benefit of the true middle majority.