Published on -12/3/2013, 9:30 AM
Congress has another deadline looming as yet another bipartisan committee attempts tackle both deficit spending and the growing national debt. As luck would have it, the deadline is Friday, Dec. 13.
Even with extremely low expectations, we would expect the committee to agree on absolutely nothing -- other than to wink at each other, head home for the holidays, and tell adoring constituents how hard they themselves are working and how uncooperative the other party is being once again.
The current 29-member conference, made up of senators and representatives from both parties, is the fifth blue-ribbon, bipartisan panel in the past three years to work on the same problem.
This one assured the public there would be no grand bargain sought, let alone achieved. Its primary goal appears to be replacing across-the-board sequestration cuts with more sensible solutions most all agree should take place.
The problem will be the same as has plagued the other four commissions: Lack of consensus. Republicans want cuts in entitlement programs while Democrats want certain taxes raised -- and nary the two shall meet.
"It's a stupid way to run a country," said Maya MacGuineas, head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a non-partisan advocacy group.
We would have to agree. We also don't expect anything different this time around, even though every elected national leader acknowledges the U.S. is on an unsustainable fiscal course. Every one of them will say deficits need to be reduced if not eliminated, and the $17 trillion national debt is too much.
Yet nothing gets done. Lots of speeches are made, many a finger are pointed, but concrete action is in short supply these days in Washington, D.C.
There are any number of factors compounding the problem.
For one, moderates have become endangered species in both parties. Pragmatic centrists capable of deal-making and actual work are getting thinned out through retirements and primary challenges from extremists. As individual House districts become increasingly partisan via reapportionment, there is no compelling reason to compromise.
Which leads us to problem No. 2, the never-ending quest for re-election. If you can convince your constituents that you work hard and you're standing by your principles, they'll send you back to Washington. If the other guy always is the problem, it doesn't matter that you didn't get anything accomplished.
And think about it, if something got accomplished that actually reduced deficits or debt, either tax revenues increased or government services decreased. Either way, somebody or some group would have sacrificed something they currently have.
Problem No. 3 are the special interest groups and lobbyists fighting to protect 100 percent of whatever their clients possess and want. The money they bring to campaigns appears unlimited, and certainly unregulated since the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United. Vote against the wrong entitlement cut or tax increase and watch the troops get mobilized.
Problems 4 and 5 should be one and the same, but one's a subset of the other.
No. 4 is the voting public, which keeps buying the message do-nothing politicians offer and sending them back to the nation's capital.
No. 5 is the U.S. public, which fervently believes everything they get or have is due, while others either are free-loading moochers or tax cheats.
The late Sen. Russel B. Long, D-La. and chair of the Senate Tax Committee for 15 years, used to say tax reform meant: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree!"
This crude, childish assessment is right on the money. Government in and of itself is not the problem. Ultimately, it merely facilitates what we the people claim we want. If we continue to demand that others sacrifice so that we can retain our own benefits, whatever they may be, rest assured nothing will get done.
That path will lead to all of us losing.
The upcoming deadline is arbitrary, with no penalties if compromise isn't reached. The next real deadline is Jan. 15, when government funding will be cut off without a deal. We shall remain hopeful, but we won't hold our breath.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry