A First Step In The Right Direction
The appetite most Americans have for a solution-oriented United States Congress seems to be spurring state and local leaders to take action.
We've tried the old-fashioned approach. We trusted in the electoral process taught in the civics lessons of our youth to give us a legislative branch that actually accomplishes something meaningful on our behalf.
Boy, were we gullible.
We've answered national political opinion surveys to send a signal to senators and representatives that we expect our federal legislature to pass a budget that balances revenues and expenses, regardless of the ideological desires for specific programs contained within it.
Look at how well that has worked out for us!
We've hoped that through multiple election cycles and changes to the people and the parties in power, some combination thereof can finally place the greater good ahead of a national party platform, leading to modest breakthroughs on historically complex policy issues.
A lot of good that's done so far.
How is it that we've granted federal officials the right to ignore common sense and basic economics by either passing budgets that don't even pretend to balance spending and income, or even worse to completely avoid proposing and passing a budget? That's been the position of the United States Senate for the last three years.
Each of the 50 states, hundreds of county governments, and thousands of municipal governments adopt a fully balanced budget each and every year.
That's not to say that the exercise is free from shenanigans or political manipulation, though. After all, the people preparing the budget are posturing for re-election through the act of developing and passing these balanced budgets.
Patronage and promise-fulfillment are always a part of the mix. Throw in a little political sleight of hand for good measure, like Maryland's governor and legislative leaders routinely transferring supposedly fenced-off transportation revenue to cover general fund spending shortfalls, and you have a shady mix of math and politics.
That said, at least these folks are putting forth an effort to make the goes-in-to equal the goes-out-to!
At the federal level, the executive and legislative branches have perfected the art of failed expectations to the point that we don't even seem surprised at their inability to accomplish the most mundane tasks.
All of that may be changing, albeit slowly.
A group of high profile Republican and Democrat insiders, led by former chiefs-of-staff to both Martin O'Malley and Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., held a public event to announce the formation of the Maryland Chapter of Fix The Debt.
Fix The Debt is a group gaining steam across the nation with a goal of "developing a long-term and comprehensive solution to the debt problem."
The national leaders of Fix The Debt are former Republican United States Sen. Judd Gregg, of New Hampshire, and the former governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendel, a prominent national Democratic Party spokesman.
Both Governor Rendel and Senator Gregg are known as savvy insiders, and both have a history that suggests that compromise needn't be a political dirty word.
Instead of trying to design actual debt reduction proposals, Fix The Debt seems to recognize that first you have to be able to talk to the other guy, then you can start to talk specifics.
If the party biases are so ingrained that the mere suggestion of a conversation between the warring factions is impossible, then how do they ever get to a discussion of topics such as tax increases or entitlement reform?
The answer: They don't.
This all sounds a little bit like moonbeams and daffodils, doesn't it?
If the only people to engage in this talk of bipartisan solutions were former elected or appointed leaders, then this latest effort at starting a fundamental dialogue over reducing the national debt would amount to nothing.
It takes much more, and it takes many more.
As evidenced by the roster of initial members of the Maryland chapter for Fix The Debt, this coalition will include business leaders, non-profits, the faith community and a bevy of former state political types.
Their battle plan calls for them to visit Capitol Hill to meet with the Maryland congressional delegation. Republicans only have two office stops to make in the current lame duck session. Rep. Andy Harris (R., 1st) and Roscoe Bartlett (R., 6th) are the only GOP arms to twist, and Mr. Bartlett will be busy packing for the moving van coming in January.
Democratic members of Fix The Debt have a lot more to do, and an even tougher battle to convince their own members to embrace bipartisan solutions.
Maryland’s two senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, just spent the last six months denigrating any and every Republican idea about the federal budget while aiding and abetting the Obama campaign. Not to mention the fact that they are both part of the body that has completely abdicated its constitutional obligation to pass a federal budget each year.
Unless and until the American electorate, Democrats, Republicans and independent/unaffiliated, all band together to demand an end to the non-stop and counterproductive gridlock of the United States Congress, our national downward spiral toward a third-world economy will continue.
Joining Fix The Debt would be a start.