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August 4, 2011

Now The Dealís Done, Whatís Next?

Patricia A. Kelly

They’ve made a deal, one that no one claims to like, but one that saves us, for the moment, from the catastrophe of default on our debts.


It is so limited an agreement that it fails to avert the possibility of a decreased credit rating for the United States. It’s painful to contemplate, as David Bromstead in The Huffington Post so aptly says, because it creates a state of permanent economic emergency, comparable to the state of permanent security emergency entered into during the Bush Administration. It leaves us doomed to perpetual, vitriolic negotiation.


Make no mistake about it. This took place during President Barack Obama’s Administration, so it can justly bear his name. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., KY) are credited by some with the finalization of this agreement and may well deserve credit for at least preventing default, the shortcomings of this agreement notwithstanding. It is President Obama’s deal, though. It’s his watch.


Many Americans are very angry about the debt and the entire budget process, as well as the behavior of House of Representatives, the Senate and our senior elected leaders. Everything they do seems to be about what each can get for himself, what each can do to make others look bad, or what each can do to make himself look good. What negotiating benefit can come from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., CA) calling the Tea Party astroturf (fake grass roots), or accusing Republicans of wanting to destroy the government?


Is anyone getting the feeling that no one involved is thinking clearly, looking at the situation with objectivity, or explaining anything factual to the people of this country?


The loudest complaints come from the Tea Party people, perhaps the most influential, or, at least, the most vocal people in politics right now. Many proponents of this group’s thinking appear to be ordinary working people, many Christian, who got up from in front of their televisions one evening and said, “That’s enough!” Those among them who aren’t Christian also added – “of this B.S.” “This B.S.” refers to the double speak of politics in a situation where we’ve been led into wars we’re unsure of, spent money until we’re nearly bankrupt, borrowing much of it from our “favorite“ country, China. We’ve also ignored illegal immigration, and come up with multiple bizarre spending proposals such as paying for a bullet train from San Francisco to Anaheim in California, to name just one little one.


Many Tea Party people are actually quite laudable, with some excellent ideas, unencumbered by the weight of knowledge of the history of the workings of government. Many are quite bright. Only a few are intellectually limited enough to be prey to alleged corporate trickery, or to some of the more ridiculous email stories circulating.


No one in his right mind could not be troubled by the behavior of our government.


How could such an entity, huge, powerful, and with access to the best minds in the world, be so irresponsible or foolish as to plunder the Social Security Trust Fund, to start a war based at best on misinformation, or to act as if every congressman’s or senator’s pet project was ever appropriate, not to mention in a time of financial crisis? No wonder people are upset.


The trouble is that the situation is complicated. Many on the extreme right, in their cries for reduced government spending, are not seeing the big picture. When the right talks of personal responsibility and accountability, they often fail to consider the truly helpless, and the vagaries of private charity as a solution, or the potential problem that could result from having each state run independently. We have enough resources to not only get out of debt, but to take care of our helpless in a systematic way.


When the left speaks of entitlements, they often fail to look at the legions who abuse the system, and at the enormous waste that seems to always accompany federal programs. They fail to address the fact that non-citizens are provided with social services, that there are restrictions everywhere on even asking consumers, certainly of medical care, if they are even legal residents, before or after treatment decisions are made.


Those in our society, many of whom are simply too busy acquiring everything from sustenance to flat screen televisions, depend on those who have climbed the political ladder to run things correctly. It isn’t working.


In 2008, our country, uncomfortable with the reactionary policies of the Bush Administration and the threat of control over people’s personal lives, not to mention enormously expensive and unfunded foreign policy initiatives, decided we needed something. Barack Obama gave us the word: Change. His racial composition in a multicultural country, his extraordinary looks and presence, his eloquence, his optimism and even his dreams for the country were irresistible to the majority.


Unfortunately, these qualities did not add up to the tough leadership our country needs. He has never been the powerhouse, the negotiator, the one who clarifies the situation, or the needs of the country, to the people. He has remained the speech maker, the “Maharishi,” rather than the true leader. His people do the real work, and now, in the budget catastrophe, his ineffectiveness has come home to roost. One could feel sorry for him. He may have fooled himself, along with us, into thinking he could be a good president.


The problem at hand remains, however. Budget decisions must be made by the end of November, or automatic cuts, mostly military, will be made. According to Pat Buchanan, speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe August 3, this will pit the Senate’s Republican security hawks against the Republican fiscal hawks, creating even more divisiveness.


The electorate can pay attention, read between the lines of the news and vote very carefully. Throwing out one ineffectual leader for another is a very poor plan. We need to participate in the primaries, not just the general elections. We can make clear to our leaders that we are depending on them to run the government in the best interest of the country, and in response to the true wishes of the majority of the people, not for local or personal gain. We can insist that our political party unite around core values, not bicker endlessly.


Historically, the Republican Party is considered the home of the Caucasian businessman. The Democratic Party is remembered to be the home of the common people and the disadvantaged. Neither of these pictures is correct.


One element of the Republican Party is tied to the corporate world, another to moderation in government and enhanced personal freedom, and another to strict limitation of government, sometimes with restrictions on personal freedom, always with minimal taxation, sometimes at the expense of meeting needs that only government can provide.


One faction of the Democratic Party appears to stand for the federal government as the solution to all of the needs of the people rather than having people take responsibility for themselves. Another faction favors social and environmental engineering to make their views of moral behavior become the law of the land.


On one level, both parties are the same.  The only difference is that “my way or the highway” goes in the opposite direction for each group.


The long term solution should include a balanced budget except in the case of dire national emergency. Borrowed funds should be repaid. As society evolves, changes could be made in the retirement age, or the age of eligibility for Medicare, but the commitment made by the government to present retirees, or to those who don’t have time to recover the lost income, must be kept.


Funds paid into Social Security and to Medicare should never be spent on anything else. If we want to remain a united country, federal standards for highways, food and drug safety, education, and the military should be upheld. States generally should not be subject to unfunded mandates. Mandates of any kind should be few. The federal government should be as small as possible. The tax code should be dramatically simplified, gradually, to end with an essentially free market. That means ending corporate, personal and charitable deductions over time.


Businesses should be operating to make a profit through performance, not through tax deductions. People should be buying homes and having children because they want to, not because of tax deductions.


There’s a hard road ahead, no question. Untangling the web we’ve allowed to be woven will be daunting, but it’s the only road to greatness for our country.


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
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