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April 11, 2011

Idiocracy: Congress, the President, and the federal budget

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

New York Democratic Sen. Charles (Chuck) Schumer brought the kind of clarity to the current FY 11 federal budget debate that had been missing for the last several months. Remember, all this talk of shutting down the federal government over an inability to reach agreement on a continuing funding mechanism should have been resolved last September.


Senator Schumer appeared on cable's MSNBC last Friday to answer the fundamental question: "Why is it taking so long to reach a deal?"


In his finite wisdom, he explained that the new crop of Tea Party conservatives in the House of Representatives were to blame.


"I've been around here for 30 years, I've seen 'em come and go," Senator Schumer confidently stated. His point was that this group of mostly GOP representatives is more interested in making a point than they are in making a deal. A little patience and this rabble-rousing mob will be banished to the legislative archives.


As far as Mr. Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., NV), and even President Barack Obama, are concerned, this should be a simple matter of a horse trade or two, then right back to the business-as-usual approach to governing this country.


They often referred to the political box that House Speaker John Boehner (R., OH) found himself in. In their opinion, Congressman Boehner was torn between his decades-long history as a guy who can make a deal and this group of renegade conservatives and their voting constituency.


It wasn't clear that Speaker Boehner was really the one in the box. An analysis of polling on the issue of a shutdown and the real political consequences suggests that if it were to happen, the fallout might be different than the shutdown that occurred in 1995.


That experience left a bad taste in the public's mouth for Republicans in general, and for then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R., GA) specifically. President Bill Clinton rebounded dramatically from the experience, and Democrats regained control of Congress as a result.


This time, the advance polling on a shutdown suggested a different political consequence. The American voting public seems to view a temporary suspension with less passion, and whatever passion they do have about it might be offset by a greater passion for long term spending controls and solutions to the debt crisis.


The threat of the shutdown involved an argument over somewhere between $7 and $10 billion in spending cuts. Given that the FY12 draft budget proposes 10 times that, along with major changes to the big three entitlements – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – this felt a little like plugging a leaking dyke with tissue paper.


President Obama claimed his previous agreements to reduce spending by $31 billion in the FY11 budget demonstratesd sufficient movement to warrant some relaxation on the part of the Republican budget-cutters. I doubt they'd agree.


As if the difference of several billion dollars weren't enough of a hurdle, Republican strategists in the House seized on a rarely used strategic tactic to tie the hands of the Democrats in the debate over the continuing resolution.


The House majority inserted a number of policy riders into the debate.


The riders dealt with reducing environmental regulation, limitations on abortion funding and other social program reductions and restriction.


While maybe not directly related to the issues associated with keeping the federal government funded for the current (FY11) year (already half over), these are red meat issues for conservative values voters.


So, here we go again: Republicans, especially those ushered in by Tea Party voters last November, reached as high and as far as they could in this political showdown. Democrats were adamant that the cuts they've already swallowed are more than they believed were warranted, and that the policy changes were too much of an overreach by the GOP.


So, once again, the principle of partisanship proved itself the true enemy of logic and rationality.


First, Chuck Schumer's statement that he's been around for 30 years might be the best example of why our federal legislature is so badly misdirected.


Senator Schumer himself, as a 30-year participant in the incremental partisan destruction of our republic, should have been sent out to pasture decades ago. It's the lifelong incumbents in the Congress who are more concerned about staying in office and building their own caucus than they are doing their jobs.


Why is it that the solid Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate were unable to complete work on a budget last September? Had President Obama, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Senator Reid wanted to, they could have solved this problem prior to the last election. The fact is that they were more concerned about the election than they were about funding the government.


That failure gives us our current foolishness.


Republicans in the House, especially this Tea Party crop, are involved in their own dance of idiocy. Adding policy riders to a continuing resolution debate is just irresponsible, and – like the Democrats – proves that this is really about partisanship, not governance.


Like Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker, the Republicans in the House seem intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Governor Walker had the chance to secure historic givebacks from labor, but deemed it best to overreach for fundamentals like basic bargaining rights.


It seems his GOP colleagues in the House of Representatives are equally intent on an overreach, sacrificing the chance for meaningful FY11 cuts and FY12 spending reform for a shot at strengthening their national platform for the next presidential election.


In the end both sides found the common ground necessary to agree to a continuing resolution to keep the lights on until October.


The larger issue is how our national leaders ever truly deal with these complex issues as long as their guiding interest and focus is on getting like-minded members elected versus the long-term best interests of the American people and this constitutional republic.


Once we were great, the shining example for the whole world. Now, we an idiocracy and the gang of idiots, nincompoops and boobs who have brought us here appear intent on completing their work.


Are we going to let them?


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