Monthly Archives: April 2011
When I wrote this piece, Budget Armageddon was at hand. The sun has not yet risen a scant 7 hours later, and it appears that budget catastrophe has been avoided. Details are sketchy but it looks like the focus turned more towards financial issues rather than social issues. There is a short continuing resolution that will feature Congressional debate before the Congress votes to approve this compromise. We will have to be patient as this day breaks to gain full insight into the solution. Notwithstanding the facts of the compromise, the content of this essay remains germane.
The year was 1944 and the Allies had landed at Normandy in June and pressed forward through Western Europe seemingly at will for the next six months. Now comes the dead of winter in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest and the Nazis capitalize on an exposed weakness and severely threaten the entire invasion. When offered a Nazi ultimatum to surrender, General Anthony McAuliffe simply answered, “nuts.” Enter General George Patton. Blood and guts George Patton, who spins and whirls and brings his Third Army into the fight to relieve Bastogne and one General McAuliffe. The Allies, of course, go on to defeat Hitler, win the war and secure the peace on the continent for the next 67 years.
Where is one to stand on this Battle of the Budget? Is there anyone coming to rescue us? Is John Boehner the latter day General McAuliffe saying, “Nuts,” to Senator Reed and President Obama? Or is it the specter of the Tea Party caucus putting those words in Mr. Boehner’s mouth. The problem is we really don’t know what is going on in the negotiations.
If one believes the NY Times, the Republicans are moving the end zone by feigning to fight for fiscal cuts to the budget while their real agenda is one of pressing social agenda issues and neutering the EPA on regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The Wall Street Journal seems to accuse the President of setting up this Battle of the Budget for political purposes of his own. It is an “all or nothing” gambit for the President. He has the power, through Executive Order, to make payments to our servicemen, to our seniors and to other important constituencies if he chooses. He does not. He is picking a fight.
But why fight this seemingly innocuous battle? Could it be that the real culprit in this current drama is not the Tea Party but the Democrats? Is it merely a smokescreen to fight on about a budget that was supposed to be wrapped up 7 months ago by a Congress entirely controlled by Democrats with a Democrat in the White House? If all we were talking about was money, 10, 20 or 30 billion dollars that would be one thing. What we are really talking about is the 2012 budget and the courageous piece of work put forward by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Let us be clear. The budget proposal put forth by Paul Ryan, the Republican budget proposal, is just that: a proposal. It is not necessarily a “Path to Prosperity,” as the subtitle implies any more that the Obama stimulus was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The Ryan proposal is just a point of departure. It is fraught with risk and uncertainty. It contains optimistic assumptions that stretch out far into the future. What I admire about the proposal is that someone in Washington is actually looking out beyond the next election cycle. In the case of this silly budget impasse that threatens to shut down the government, we are focusing an inordinate amount of attention on a five month spending plan while the real problems of our time are fertilized by our neglect. The Democrats are trying to paint the Republicans, and the Tea Party, in particular, as cold hearted, insensitive demons bent on starving Grandma. What is true is that we are all going to have to let go of some degree of government largess. We do not need it and we cannot afford it. There are bills to pay today that we cannot manage and the bill compounds with each passing budget year.
I used to fear for the future of our grandchildren and our children. It is time to think about fearing for our own future. It is time to demand accountability from our elected officials in Washington and stop with the meaningless and frivolous rhetoric of politics and begin to think about making American exceptionalism more than just a campaign slogan. We needed someone to say, “nuts.” It looks like we got that. I wonder who played the role of General Patton?
I recall with some fondness the kindly countenance of Ed Koch, the three term Mayor of New York City in the late 1970s and through the 80s. He described himself as a “liberal with sanity,” and would always ask anyone who would answer, “How’m I doin’?”
Today marks the 5 month anniversary of the Republican sweep to majority in the US House of Representatives and the shift away from a desperate minority position in the Senate. The balance of power clearly moved towards a more conservative legislative mandate. That mandate was fueled, in large measure, by an awakening of the American People.
Some would credit the Tea Party for this momentous change and they would be partially correct. True, the Tea Party movement provided invaluable “feet on the street” to power upstart candidates who espoused conservative and Constitutionally compatible viewpoints into office. While it would be correct, in my opinion, to credit their activism for the ideological shift, it would be incorrect to say that Tea Party activists accounted for all of the votes.
If we credited every Tea Party vote to a Republican candidate in 2010, we would fall far short of the number necessary to explain the good fortune of the Republicans. What the Tea Party did is to ignite a latent sense of outrage among what was formerly called the silent majority. Silent no more, disillusioned by the partisan rancor, the ideological gridlock, and the seemingly self-serving interest of long term incumbents who had never earned a paycheck, they voted to “throw ‘da bums out” last November.
When the Democrats label Tea Party activists as extremists, as Senator Charles Schumer recently did in front of a live microphone, they are essentially painting the mainstream American public with the same broad brush. They do so at great peril.
The issues last November were centered on the ailing economy; the soaring national debt; and, immigration reform, especially focused on illegal immigrants. Here are some issues you might recall from the campaign: the GM bailouts; the union-oriented stimulus bill; Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona immigration law. There were many more.
The questions before us three months into this term is this: has the 112th Congress advanced the ball? Have they advanced it in terms of reducing the national debt, or even in passing a budget for FY2011, now half over; have they advanced it in terms making a substantial dent in making American corporations more competitive by reducing income taxes; are US jobs being retained and increased here in the US; have they advanced the ball by requiring stricter border enforcement? In each case, the answer is, “no.”
The Tea Party caucus is struggling to do precisely what they were sent to Washington to do: reduce spending, reduce taxes and secure our borders. Instead, our Congress is kowtowing to special interests and focusing on gaining marginal victories on conservative social issues. They are compelling but can easily distract us rather than seize the advantage granted them last November. Our government is on the brink of shutdown as early as next week as Congress tinkers around the edges of reducing the amount of growth in the budget rather than resetting the bar to 2008 levels. Immigration reform is on the back burner.
So, what has changed since November? Unfortunately, not much. The “system” is weighing down the change agents in Washington. They are going to need our help to keep the faith and to fight the good fight to restore the promise of the American Dream for our children and their children. Do not become distracted by extremist rhetoric and do not give up hope. We have made tremendous inroads but the conservatives who have secured the beachhead need reinforcements and firepower. That happens in 2012.
So, as Mayor Ed Koch would, “How’m I doing?” My answer so far is: press on.