Good news: Washington has avoided a government shutdown for a few more weeks. Bad news: Nobody agrees with anybody else on what comes next. In governmentese, it’s called kicking the can down the road. Again.
So President Barack Obama sent Vice President Joe Biden, are back from the Middle East and into the fray. Word is Joe didn’t really want to go. It’s a really big (blank, blank) deal. But not in the good way he regarded passing the health care reform bill. Obama told him to get a budget deal from people who are barely civil to each other. He told Biden to do it “without delay.”
Having agreed to cut $4 billion from federal spending, an amount so small given the scope of the budget that it doesn’t even show up on a chart, the legislators, under Biden’s brokerage, are going to try to devise a budget for the remaining six and a half months of the fiscal year. Republicans want to chop spending by about $60 billion for that period. Democrats don’t.
You would think lawmakers would simply take the pulse of their constituents and get this done. But it turns out we voters are terribly confused. According to the latest polls, we want to rein in government spending but we don’t want Medicare or Social Security benefits reduced. And as a nation, we remain steadfastly against having our taxes raised. Soaring oil prices are enough.
We want the “fat” cut from federal spending, but we don’t agree on what that is. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that Americans of all ages and ideologies agreed it is “unacceptable” to make significant cuts in entitlement programs to reduce the federal deficit, which economists say is the only way to balance the budget without raising taxes.
The national poll held a glimmer of a direction for congressional lawmakers to take. More than half of those polled want to increase the retirement age to 69 by 2075, up from 66. An even larger majority supports reducing Social Security and Medicare payments to well-off Americans. If those two actions were taken, the future of Social Security would be vastly improved.
We will tolerate “shared sacrifice,” but nobody has told us what exactly that would mean.
So here we are, funding government two weeks at a time. Our hope is in Biden. Maybe he will talk the two sides into submission. As a senator, Biden once emptied a hearing room with just one long-winded question. You go, guy.
Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.