On the Political Class: Radio Essay for July 23, 2011

You’ve heard the terms: The “Grand Bargain;” “The Gang of Six;” and, “Cut, Cap and Balance.” Reminds me of the “Punt, Pass and Kick” competitions kids used to play. Only this time, they are not kids. They are adults.

You’ve seen the polling on this “Debt Crisis” crisis. Whose fault is it? Is it the Democrats who can’t seem to curtail a program or stop blaming George Bush while simultaneously exalting Bill Clinton? Is it the President who has not presented any sort of budget to Congress in over 800 days and who has played with all the grace of boy who just takes his ball and goes home when things don’t go his way? Or is it the Republicans who have awoken to the dangers of “demon-spending” and are twisting their collective ankles to enter a 12-step rehab program? Is there anyone more obnoxious than a reformed addict? The polls always lump these players together under their party labels but that is incorrect.

In actual practice during the last two decades, the Democrats and the Republicans, no matter who is the President, should properly be referred to, not by party, but as the Political Class. They are neither fish nor fowl when it comes to party affiliation. They have melded into an amorphous mass of wheeling and dealing chameleons that further their own agendas and careers at the expense of the hopes and desires of the real people who send them there. “Always make sure you have someone else to blame for the failure to move the ball,” must surely be in the Congressional Book-of-One-Liners.

My business experience, as well as my military experience, long ago defined the difference between management and leadership. Our Congress has become adept at managing things such as constituent requests for tickets to the White House tour or a flag that has flown over the US Capitol, for example. They’ve become adept at managing their image as hard working advocates for you in an environment where nobody leads, including them.

There are many types of leadership and much of it is situational. In the case of Congress, you have 535 huge egos. That’s not a criticism; it is a prerequisite for the job. You can’t manage egos, you have to lead them. And you cannot manage to the lowest common denominator. That’s what a manager does and the results are what we have come to expect out of Washington: something everyone can agree on at the lowest possible level. A leader has to elevate the conversation among all participants and paint a vision of the future. In the case of the debt ceiling debate, that vision has both a bright side and a bleak side. We are staring into an abyss that was clearly marked on our financial maps and yet we are on the brink of falling into it face first.

We are facing an untenable position in our debt situation. Today we borrow 40 cents for every dollar we spend. A fair chunk of that spending pays off existing debt. Theoretically, we could only spend 60 cents instead of $1 and avoid having to raise the debt ceiling. Some people think this is a wise choice. I think it is dangerous, perhaps reckless, to do so, especially by August 3rd. Our government is ill-equipped to make the tough calls on what bills would get paid and which ones would not. Somewhere along the line, we would not honor our obligations. We need to do that in order to prove that we can govern ourselves.
Yet, raising the ceiling without meaningful reductions in present spending is equally reckless. Limiting the power of future Congresses to spend money as they deem appropriate seems unenforceable, perhaps unconstitutional.

Then there is the discussion of Federal revenue generation. I refer to that as taxes. We cannot tax our way into prosperity. It is like shrinking our way to greatness. Yet there exist a myriad of tax legislation in the form of special dispensation and loopholes that favors one company over another, one industry over another, one technology over another that creates an uneven playing field that actually stifles competition. Short term tax breaks defer the difficult decisions that companies need to make to remain competitive both domestically and globally.

Get rid of them, I say. Greatly reduce the corporate tax rate even if it means that some companies will lose their benefits and have their taxes increase. Level the playing field and reap the benefits of a competitive corporate sector. Oil companies must explore to stay in business. Companies need to innovate to remain competitive. They don’t need Uncle Sam to incentivize them to do that; their survival demands that. Our industries are mature enough that the market can determine the winners and losers, not the government.

Brinksmanship is not leadership. It is grandstanding. It is pompous. Does anyone want the same government bureaucrats that gave us the overhaul of the healthcare and financial sectors cooking up another 2000 page piece of legislation in the dark of night that nobody can read? Not me. Nor do I want yet another Blue Ribbon commission to conjure up another deficit reduction scheme.

In the words of Kevin Millar, the famous Boston Red Sox first baseman, it is time to “Cowboy Up” in Washington. This 112th Congress must take responsibility for its own actions and its own budget. The debt ceiling debate is happening on its watch. The 112th Congress owns it.
We cannot afford to punt, pass or kick the can down the road. Lead, follow or make way for someone who can.

Press on.

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