Breaking news: Congress is dysfunctional.
Republicans think they’ll win the presidency and Senate next year so they don’t want to agree to anything now, and instead are going to wait a year when they’ll be able to push their plan through with much less resistance.
Democrats found some backbone (fragile though it is) and are not giving up their push for higher revenue (tax increases). So now, they’ll get to run all year on the fact that those evil Republicans held them up from doing anything good for America.
It’s infantile politics at it’s purest, and it makes me ashamed. Sure, partisan bickering has always been a part of our political process, but in this case it seems that the (financial) stakes are higher.
The debt ceiling debate boils down to the trolley problem which states:
A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?
The majority of the country and Congress is saying we have to “flip the switch”. The debate is over the specifics, which are so insignificant it’s ridiculous. Then there is a group of tea party members that don’t want to flip the switch. They want to stop the train, and if that’s not possible, let it run over the five people and learn a valuable lesson from that. This is an admirable position is some very distant abstract universe, but is just not in touch with reality and the consequences of real people’s lives in the short and long term.
To reiterate, the current plans proposed by Republicans and Democrats are virtually the same. The Republicans propose slightly harsher cuts, and make the avoidance of cutting harder, but really, there are two reasons no agreement has been reached:
- The Republicans (and to some degree, the Democrats) still think they can come out the political winner in this, while the other side comes out the political loser.
- Tea Party members are ideologically immovable (I’m trying to put it as nicely as possible here).
Meanwhile, the train is flying down the tracks…
* Illustration above is by Frank O’Connell (NY Times)
I’m starting to see a trend in the way our government operates:
Step 1: Do nothing for a few months.
Step 2: Recognize a looming problem. Sell it as a crisis that is the biggest threat to our well-being ever.
Step 3: Rush through legislation which has drastic fundamental consquences on the future of our country without much deliberation, public discussion, debate, or any kind of open forum for ideas.
Step 4: Use the successful or failed (both are claimed to be true) resolution of the “crisis” in the next election to raise money.
Wars (like Iraq and Afghanistan) are an especially clear example of this, however, the current debt ceiling crisis is another tragic example. I don’t yet know the outcome of the private meetings between Obama and the key political figures involved, but I do know that the lives of millions of Americans will be affected by the inevitable cuts in treasured programs and the inevitable tax reform.
These are important and difficult public policy questions, and yet the American people are not involved in any real sense, because the span of time over which options are weighed is weeks (even days), not years.