Most of us know the best way to lose weight is not only to cut down the calories but also to exercise. Well, the same thing is true in getting America’s fiscal house in order. It won’t work if it depends strictly on cutting the budget without increasing taxes and reforming entitlement programs designed for a different society.
But recent polls are showing that while a majority of Americans are for drastically tightening the nation’s financial belt to lower the debt many of them don’t want that to impact them personally. And when it comes to taxes, the late Sen. Russell Long’s assessment of public opinion still holds true. He said the prevailing attitude always is, “Don’t tax me. Don’t tax thee. Tax that man behind the tree.”
That, of course, does not bode well for solving a dilemma that without major compromise and sublimation of political interests might more quickly than expected bring us to the brink of economic disaster and that is no exaggeration. Only a fool would ignore the recent Standard and Poor’s prediction that our rating as the world’s safest investment is in grave danger. Deterring that will require serious accommodation between the White House and both sides of the aisle in Congress.
Is that at all possible in the current atmosphere? Although it seems unlikely given a divided Congress and until recently a president who has shown little sign of the leadership that he promised during his spectacular rise to the office, it had darned well better be. One hates to contemplate the result of continued brain freeze among those we have chosen to lead us.
After fiddling with expensive health care reform while the economy burned and expenditures continued to outstrip income, President Barack Obama finally decided he should climb aboard the deficit reduction bandwagon. He has proposed a compromise to a tough Republican proposal that is long on cuts and short on revenue.
The president has taken to the stump to sell his plan to a skeptical nation concerned about the prospects of a double dip recession and a lingering slowdown in the job market. The polls show a decided drop in public faith in Obama’s ability to handle the situation but even less enthusiasm about Congress’ chances.
Meanwhile, the Republicans in the House are caught between a rock and a hard place with the new members having pledged to constituents to cut spending at any cost and the realization that raising the debt limit, the next big battle in the financial wars, is an absolute necessity. Democrats who hold sway in the Senate don’t seem to know what to do. With the House already having passed the GOP’s 2012 budget, hope in reaching any sort of detente may depend on the so-called “gang of six” bipartisan senators.
It’s important to note here that somehow we have always seemed to muddle through these financial crises. Congress after all operates best in a crisis and takes the necessary steps in the end. But this may be different. It is difficult to remember when major blocs of voters have been so unwilling to bend.
Older Americans are desperate to preserve the status quo in Medicare despite the necessity for reform and the same is true for Social Security. Tea party activists are adamant that the whole solution lies in simply drastically reducing the spending. They are just as adamant about not raising taxes. Liberal Democrats are increasingly concerned about what they see as an attack on social programs including safety nets.
Somewhere along the line, all these interests are going to have to reason together for the greater good, put their differences aside and understand that if the United States is going to remain in the forefront of the world, there are sacrifices that have to be made and quickly. Diets aren’t much fun.
Dan K. Thomasson is a former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.