"Once abolish God and the government becomes the God." -G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, July 31, 2011

America's Compromising Position

What can be said about the debt ceiling debate that hasn't already been said? Even if a deal is struck to raise the debt ceiling for the promise of offsetting "cuts", the debt march will continue full force to the brink of fiscal calamity. We are drinking ourselves to death and we badly need an intervention.

The nation is nearly $15 trillion in debt. That number isn't going down. Last year's federal budget was, wait, that's right, the Democrats didn't pass a budget last year. Needless to say, government spending last year without a proper budget was a whopping $3.8 trillion. That's 35% more than the last budget passed by Republicans in 2006 before Democrats took control of Congress. So exactly who inherited a crisis from whom?

The minute Nancy Pelosi says she can't support the cuts proposed by House Republicans, remind her that she put us in this position in the first place. The Tea Party didn't create this debt. They were elected for the exact purpose of dealing with it. That's what last year's tidal wave election was about. The debt ceiling gave them the opportunity to take a stand.

For calling attention to the perils of debt at this moment in history and taking steps to deal with runaway government spending, Tea Party members have been called extremists, terrorists, suicide bombers, and all sorts of new tone rhetoric that progressives supposedly wanted to ban after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. For promising spending we can't afford and creating this government mess, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and his ilk have been referred to as "reasonable" and "pragmatic."  Since when was proposing a budget that doubled the national debt in ten years reasonable?

Yet still, conservatives have somehow won the messaging battle. You can't find an independent or moderate Democrat voter who doesn't think government cuts should be a large part of the budget solution. This is conservative turf and hopefully it will translate to Republican votes next November.

Does the supposed debt deal go far enough to limit government spending? Did George Lucas ever justify those final three Star Wars movies? Reports suggest that the compromised bill will cut $900 billion over 10 years, but depending on the baseline used by the CBO that could mean less than $150 billion of actual spending reductions. That's a mere $15 billion in cuts a year to budgets in the $4 trillion range.

More concerning, $350 billion of the proposed spending reductions, or nearly 40%, will be cuts to defense. That's a heavy price to pay in a dangerous world where Iran is developing nuclear weapons and Communist China is increasingly flexing their military muscle. Liberals like to laud military cuts they made in the 90s under Clinton, but it was those same cuts that forced the U.S. to send men into Iraq and Afghanistan a decade later without safe Humvees or proper body armor.

Perhaps the president sensed John Boehner and Republicans were bluffing all along and wouldn't allow the default date to pass. True, the Tea Party has stood firm, wanting to use the debt ceiling as a firewall to force an immediate reduction in government expenditures, but political reality has interfered. They don't have the numbers in Washington and the press has been especially hostile to their aggressive tactics of reform. Ultimately, it was a gambit other Republicans weren't willing to take.

In chess terms, what the Tea Party proposed was bringing the queen out early and attacking. The strategy is bold and shortens the battle, but can be risky. Republican leadership preferred to take a long-term approach, castle and move some pawns to control the center of the board and hope voters will hold Barack Obama responsible for the mess he's left behind. There's no need for sudden moves in a bad economy when the public is increasingly holding the president responsible, especially given the weak economic data and a potential double dip recession on the horizon (first quarter GDP has already been downgraded to an anemic 0.9%).

Unfortunately with spending still unchecked and a phony solution in the works, we may be running out of time for anything close to a soft landing.