Monday, August 8, 2011

Babies and Bathwater

Like so many congresses before it, the 112th Congress has kicked the can on the budget down the road a few years, but not before Speaker Boehner was mugged by the recalcitrant Tea Party-ers throwing a tantrum worthy of the most leather-lunged three year old.  Meanwhile, Majority Leader Eric Cantor was busy cutting the legs out from under his own leader by pandering to this mob with calculating ambitions of his own for the Speaker's office.  All this hissy-fitting by the no-new-taxes-compromise-is-a-dirty-word crowd was playing out against a backdrop of exasperated voters, shell-shocked investors and worried governments world wide.

The difference this time, however, is that the real world consequences of this doomsday approach have been plastered on the news as investors around the world panicked and dropped markets by huge margins.  At least one investment rating company downgraded U.S. Treasuries from their AAA rating for the first time since Andrew Jackson issued debt obligations on behalf of the fledgling United States of America.

Real world results?  By refusing to consider all the options on the table, the Tea Party has emasculated party leadership and sent the economy on a roller coaster ride that will almost certainly kill any near-term job creation in this country, and likely will put us into the second half of a double-dip recession.  So, what do we have to show for it?

No serious effort to reduce the deficit was achieved.  We are still trying to drain Lake Superior with a teaspoon.  The much ballyhooed concession of getting a vote on a balanced budget amendment was political theatre from the start.  Super majority voting requirements in both houses of Congress and all the states doomed this before birth and even with a successful vote in Congress it would take years of wrangling in the states before any decision was reached.  I haven't even touched on the scary notion that in a time of national emergency, the ability to raise money by borrowing from friendly nations would be constitutionally foreclosed, likely with devastating results.

The right-wing, to which I proudly belonged not too long ago, is fond of describing taxes as job-killing.  To put not too fine a point on it--that's just crap.  Really.

The tax code of the United States has been successfully manipulated by special interest lobbyists almost since income tax was imposed in the early twentieth century and thus we see a set of laws that has been bent to serve business--big and small.  Everywhere you look the law is riddled with deductions, exclusions and exemptions for starting and owning a business.  For example, capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income.  Stamps and phone lines, office supplies and advertising, employee benefits and 401Ks and thousands more, all designed to allow business to re-invest in the economy and still be profitable.  The truth is, business knows exactly how to avoid higher taxes:  They invest more in the business.

It isn't new or higher taxes business really fears, it's uncertainty.  People like a level of predictability in the ordering of their lives and businesses-being owned and operated by people for people-like exactly the same thing.  Predictable, responsible action in Congress and the White House begets confidence in leadership.  The feeling that there is a reliable hand on the tiller of the ship of state leaves the electorate free to do what we do best-innovate, grow and outstrip the world in creativity and productivity.

Instead we find ourselves held hostage by a super-minority of mal-contented neer-do-wells struggling to wrest the tiller from calmer and more experienced shipmates as we veer madly toward the rocks.  This is not healthy debate, this is throwing not only the baby out with the bath water, but the soap, towel and tub right along with it.  At the core, the uber-rich don't want new taxes because an uncertain future clouds the vision of new business growth so they want to squirrel away their cache against further calamities.  An altogether reasonable response in uncertain times, however unfair it might seem to those of us with modest means.

Meaningful debt reduction can only begin when we re-evaluate how and where we choose to project military force and start making defense budget begin to look proportionate to the actual needs rather than having an enormous standing military in anticipation of what might happen.  I'd like to have a million bucks in the bank in anticipation of what might happen but in order to achieve that goal I have to increase my income and decrease my expenditures--substantially.  In governmental terms, I need to raise taxes and cut spending.  Slashing one without the other just leaves a bloody stump.

I heard a Tea Party Republican on a talking heads Sunday news show make the following statement:  "I don't think all these bad things are going to happen like they say they are.  It's a bunch of hooey."

The three most salient words in that sentence?   I don't think..

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