Who is to blame for the budget impasse? It’s clear who Nicholas Kristof holds accountable; in Thursday’s New York Times he writes, “If Congressional Republicans actually shut down the government this weekend, they will be making a powerful argument for autocracy.” Is the GOP really responsible for the stalemate? It appears that both sides have dug in; we haven’t heard much from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lately- what concessions has he made? It’s a little like blaming the rebels in Libya for a stalemate. By implication, it’s a suggestion that they should be reasonable and give up.
Republicans in Congress are not about to give up the budget fight. While President Obama is tsk-tsking them for not falling in line (and for interrupting his campaign schedule), Speaker Boehner and those pesky Tea Party newbies are making life uncomfortable for the establishment – as well they should. Voters turned out in force last fall to demand an end to the excess spending of recent years, the piling up of debt which weakens our prospects and will ultimately weaken our defenses. Those elected with a promise to end this profligate and unsustainable path are taking the wishes of the voters seriously.
Beyond understanding is why Democrats are not doing so as well. This is a stand-off between budget hawks and budget ostriches; so far, the Democratic leadership has offered nothing but a defense of the status quo. They can’t pretend we don’t have a budget crisis. President Obama made great political hay a year ago by appointing a bipartisan fiscal deficit commission. “For far too long, Washington has avoided the tough choices necessary to solve our fiscal problems – and they won’t be solved overnight,” he said at the time. “But under the leadership of Erksine [Bowles] and Alan [Simpson], I’m confident that the Commission I’m establishing today will build a bipartisan consensus to put America on the path toward fiscal reform and responsibility. I know they’ll take up their work with the sense of integrity and strength of commitment that America’s people deserve and America’s future demands.”
Why appoint a commission if we don’t have a problem? But just as the president ignored the conclusions of the Bowles-Simpson confab, which were politically dangerous, now he and his colleagues in Congress behave as though the demands of the GOP are unreasonable – the petty cravings of spoiled children.
Americans should not be deceived. Our fiscal future is in doubt. The spending cuts initially envisioned by the Republicans --$60 billion --are minor in the context of a projected $1.7 trillion deficit. Democrats seized on some of the most contentious cuts, such as Planned Parenthood, to raise anxiety levels about the impact of the GOP plan. Rest assured, with a budget of nearly $4 trillion, there is plenty of money to go around.
Here’s a stunning reality check, which confirms the gravity of our situation: In March, the deficit was the largest ever –$223 billion. In other words, in one month our shortfall – not our spending – is almost four times what the GOP would like to slice from one year. We need to make some changes.
Democrats would like to argue that they are the party of the future. The unhappy reality is that the future, unless we bring our finances in line, is bleak indeed.