Friday, July 22, 2011

Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns: Or, What the HECK is Going on in DC?

Doesn't it seem like the heat wave here in Washington, DC may be seeping into the brains of our elected officials? I'm guessing that the real problem here is that people are suffering from heat exhaustion. I know I'm exhausted just hearing about it!

While Washington literally burns in 110 degree heat, you've probably heard that we have a little debt ceiling situation here in Washington, DC and that Republicans and Democrats are in just a bit of a stand-off. Some want dramatic cuts in discretionary programs. Some want tax increases. Some don't. No one wants to make significant changes to Social Security or Medicare. Every wants their specific perspective to be the ONLY one adopted.

For example, earlier today we learned that the Senate rejected the House proposal for "cut, cap, balance" and then left for the weekend. For the uninitiated, "cut, cap, balance" is a proposal to require Congress to dramatically cut and cap spending and then proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would require a balanced budget.

I'm not a fan of cut, cap, balance for a variety of reasons (many of which are outlined in this CNN Money report), but the main thing that bugs me is that all the votes on it are a complete waste of time. The House shouldn't have passed it and the Senate shouldn't have taken it up (hey, if they did nothing it wouldn't have become law anyway!) It was obviously a non-starter for a variety of reasons, one of which is the balanced budget amendment.

Last time I checked, it takes a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate (which would have been totally impossible, I might note) to even PROPOSE a constitutional amendment to the states and then three-fourths of the states must agree. People have been trying to do that on the budget issue since the Constitution was ratified. Absolutely nothing immediately substantive would come out of a balanced budget vote, so clearly the idea here wasn't to get something done. It was to make a statement. I don't think we have time for "statements" now. I think we need to get this thing taken care of.

One of the main problems, though, behind why members of Congress have no stomach for reducing spending is that the American people don't have the stomach for reducing spending, particularly on the big ticket items. There's a lot of talk about eliminating funding for a variety of programs that will have absolutely NO impact on the overall budget (public broadcasting, planned parenthood and the like). Taken all together, the two items mentioned here represent less than one one-hundredth of one percent of the budget.

We should be focusing on things that can really get us out of this situation even if, yes, that means raising taxes or messing with Social Security and Medicare. There, I said it. Citizens should tell their members of Congress that we should stop fiddling while Rome burns and get on with it!

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