Congress: Please Stop Trying Not to Fix Things
The Congressional GOP continue hostage taking aimed at deficit/debt reduction via the sequester at least until the next budgetary showdown/government shutdown threat due near the end of March 2013. The pattern has repeated itself ever since the Republicans took over the House after the 2010 midterm elections. A different name for the crisis is used in each reincarnation, but the result is the same. A last-minute soon-to-expire solution is reached to keep things going until the next deadline, which isn’t far off.
Despite winning re-election for the President in 2012, along with gains in both the House and the Senate, neither house of Congress is really controlled by the Democrats. Despite supposed reforms designed to streamline legislative action in the Senate, Republicans have shown no inclination to reduce their abuse of the filibuster, using it to delay the confirmation of a new Secretary of Defense until after an important NATO summit. Other cabinet appointments have gone more smoothly, but non-cabinet appointments appear to be meeting the same fate as during the last Congress.
Republicans did compromise somewhat on taxes belatedly at the time of the “fiscal cliff”, but are saying now that the sequester must happen unless further cuts are made to spending, with no additional revenues via tax increase or loopholes closed. They insist that “entitlement” programs are the cause of the deficit problem, especially in future years. The main cause of the deficit is the huge increase in the projected cost of medical care in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. Reducing benefits seems to be their preferred method of resolving the difficulty, rather than reducing costs by other means. Social Security is constantly used as an example of a program which will reach a fiscal crisis in the future years due to population dynamics and the aging of baby boomers.
Social Security is not now a source of the deficit nor of the national debt. For years it ran a surplus that was used to prop up much of the rest of federal spending, resulting in IOU’s owed it. Raising the cap on earnings subject to the payroll tax for Social Security would make it solvent for many additional years to come, but the call is still out to reduce benefits. Even the President has not taken off the table the notion of switching to a new formula for calculating cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security benefits which would, in effect, lower those benefits over time significantly, placing even more of a burden on those with the lowest incomes.
Social Security has become an increasingly important source of retirement income for a larger percentage of Americans as time has gone by. With the demise of traditional pension plans, the collapse of the housing market, and the vulnerabilities of newer 401K plans to the vagaries of the financial markets, many depend on Social Security for most, if not all, of their living expenses. Medicare serves an even bigger role in their health care. Cutting benefits which already leave many living in poverty to the extent that they depend on food stamps, subsidized housing, heating fuel assistance and other government programs just to make ends meet is not an acceptable solution to the deficit or the debt.
Our government which ran up huge deficits fighting two wars simultaneously without regard for cost or means of determining the attainment of any substantive objectives other than regime change. While the war in Afghanistan was preceded by the 9/11 terror attacks, it has dragged on to become the longest war in US history, with little to show for it other than the deaths of Osama and many Al Qaeda members. The war on terror seems to continue unabated, and conditions in the country seem to be little improved. The Iraq War was absolutely a war of convenience (not for the Iraqis or the soldiers who fought in it, certainly) based on outright lies. Pay for these mistakes on the backs of the most vulnerable of our citizens does not pass the smell test for fairness, especially since before the Bush tax cuts and the two wars he started we had been running a budget surplus. Yet many of the same Congressional representatives who never questioned the initiation or continuation of these wars are now clamoring for the deficit and debt to be trimmed without additional revenue to help pay for them.
The recession also added to government spending by increasing unemployment compensation payments and the need for food stamps. The stimulus to alleviate some of the worst effects of the recession also contributed temporarily to the deficit and added to the debt. Further stimulus in the form of job creating legislation such as infrastructure construction and improvement have been specifically turned down by Congress when proposed by the President. At first, this was in furtherance of their stated aim to deny a second Obama term. Now it seems to be a sudden religious adherence to fiscal responsibility that was notably absent under his predecessor.
The deficit has been decreasing for several years now, primarily as a result of winding down these wars and making massive cuts to domestic government spending. This fact has apparently been missed by most Americans, including all the Republican austerity hawks and the mainstream media. The reduction in government spending has been offsetting the recovery of the private sector to such an extent that the overall unemployment rate has seem little improvement since the election. The burden of the ending of the payroll tax cut has also had a negative impact on consumer demand during the brief period it has been in effect. That increase seems to have had a more deleterious affect on the economy than the increase in taxes on the wealthy has.
Continuing to spend all of the extremely limited time that Congress devotes to doing the business of the people on endless budget bickering leaves no time for legislating the sorts of reforms necessary to continue to reduce deficits by growing the economy rather than shrinking it. The tax cuts that were supposed to do that in the private sector did not do so. Government creates jobs. Tax money can be much more productively spent improving living standards here than blowing up bridges, buildings and people abroad, most of whom were never a threat to us to begin with.
In the State of the Union Address, the President called for legislation to address many issues yet to be even discussed by Congress. Raising the minimum wage would increase tax revenues by increasing incomes. While people become more independent of government assistance in meeting their everyday needs, government expenses would correspondingly decrease. Putting tax dollars to work employing people in projects to improve infrastructure that private enterprise has proven time and time again to be either unwilling or unable to sponsor would be another positive step.
Further eroding the ability of the most vulnerable members of our society by cutting government programs that they pay for, like Social Security, Medicare, public education and all the other programs that serve the welfare of so many of us just to preserve for a few the privilege of tax deductible private jets, offshore tax havens or undeserved capital gains taxed at lower rates than the rest of us are charged for our hard work is not an acceptable option. While many in Congress could undoubtedly make more money in the private sector, they still make much more than most of their constituents who must work for a living. Some of them seem to spend more time in front of TV cameras on cable news and Sunday talk shows than they do in the halls of Congress.
Perhaps those who are constantly telling us we should be working harder and smarter to achieve the goals we seek should take some of their own advice and try to get re-elected by actually accomplishing something for the people they work for, rather than obstructing those who are actually proposing solutions. Wasting valuable time for the next two years like they did the last two, as it seems they are intent upon doing, will hopefully see enough of them replaced in 2014 for some positive results to occur before the next Presidential election. But can we really afford two more years of this nonsense? How many people have to go hungry, homeless and without jobs or health care before our government wakes up and functions as designed? Austerity and budget cuts alone won’t fix things. If Congress won’t, people will have to speak more loudly. The politicians evidently can’t read the polls.