We, the people...
No longer. With its deadlocked inability to even resist its own self-devised poison pill - the sequester - the question must be asked. Just who are the 12 percent of the population that tell pollsters they think Congress is working well?
With any luck, the U.S. economy's sequestration won't last as long as the luckless Simpson jurors, but with this Congress and this White House, anything is possible.
It's tempting and it would be easy to add one more editorial comment to the growing mountain of opinion and analysis lamenting either (a) the intransigence of the Republican-led House of Representatives and their inability to listen to reason and act responsibly (b) the arrogance, miscalculation and overreach of a White House that assumed that with an election victory and a mandate from voters to push hard on taxing the wealthy that it could run the table on the Republicans following their success in the fiscal cliff standoff at the end of last year or (c) their mutual failure to act responsibly, or think of the impact their willful refusal to craft a compromise will have on ordinary folks who stand to lose 20 percent of their income while furloughed from their jobs. You could add (d), their failure in general to put the national interest over their partisan interest.
All valid, up to a point. But maybe the endlessly spinning finger of blame ought to come to a stop in front of John and Jane Q. Public as well.
That's right - us.
We, the voters, elect these people after all. Perhaps at some point, maybe after the sequester is over - although that could prove to be a long wait, given that President Obama has clearly shown himself unworthy to even be Lyndon Johnson's apprentice, and Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate is no Mike Mansfield, who ran the shop back in the 1960s, and Rep. John Boehner is the total opposite of Everett Dirksen, his GOP counterpart back in what now increasingly seems like a more innocent and rational time - there may be a moment when ordinary voters ask themselves .... what kind of a government do we really want?
For that matter, what kind of economy do we want?
Up until the recent past, we enjoyed the luxury of having it all, both ways. We have opted to tax ourselves at the lightest possible level. We also opted to create a government that provided an array of services, many of them sensible and well-intentioned (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and a dizzying menu from federal health, education, transportation departments, just to name a few). We also chose to be the world's policeman and built a Defense establishment that spent more on our military than the rest of the world combined several times over. Some of these expenditures, for aircraft like the super hi-tech F-35 fighter jet, are staggering. And yet, in the ultimate and most supreme of ironies, this weapon may never be used. Modern warfare has evolved into asymmetric alignments of irregular terrorist forces and IUD's, or where cheap, pilotless drones rule the skies, or cyberwar disrupts national economies more effectively than any weaponry short of the nuclear kind, which are also virtually unusable.
Oh, and that little gap between what we spent and what we would actually pay for? A problem for another day.
We fought two major wars in the past decade on the nation's credit card, and now the bills are coming due. But we still resist sending a clear message to our political leaders to find ways to intelligently economize, or being willing to dig deeper into our collective wallets to pay the tab.
What is wrong here?
You can blame Boehner, Obama and the other Washington pols who were unable to come up with a way to avoid the bluntest, and least intelligent way to cut federal spending to a level we are willing to pay for. But ultimately, they are all responding to what they think we want. And we want it all - low taxes, and a big government.
That might have been OK if the economy was growing like it was back in the 1950s and up through most of the 1960s, but the math doesn't work when economic growth is 2 percent or less.
Some closing thoughts:
The sequestered funds total about $85 billion, a drop in the bucket in a $3.5 trillion budget. If we can't cut this tiny sliver out of federal spending, what hope is there that we can cut anything?
If cutting federal spending by sequester was "dumb," as the President - accurately - referred to it, why wasn't he willing to suggest an alternative list of "smart" cuts to achieve the same dollar amount?
Why not dock 20 percent of every Senator's and Congressional paycheck - as well as the President's - until they figure a way out?
When they do, it might be worth having a national "community visit" - much like the one we have coming up in Manchester next week - and see if we, the people, can come to some consensus about what kind of government, in terms of its size, it is that we want. Until we figure that out, fiscal cliffs, sequesters and budget standoffs will simply be the order of the day. And soon, they'll lose their ability to frighten us, because it will become routine.
And that will be scary. Next stop, Athens, Greece.
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