Monday, October 10, 2011

Paralyzed And Dysfunctional

In today's Spokesman Review we learn that the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee is paralyzed.

After weeks of secret meetings, the 12-member deficit-cutting panel established under last summer’s budget and debt deal appears no closer to a breakthrough than when talks began last month.


The reason? A familiar deadlock over taxes and cuts to major programs like Medicare and the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone. As I pointed out before, every Republican party member of the committee has signed Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge stating they would not raise taxes. Plus, Speaker Boehner made it plainly clear when he said, "Tax increases, however, are not a viable option for the joint committee."

Is it reasonable to expect anything other than a paralyzed committee? I direct your attention to the acceptance speech Robert Gates delivered when he was awarded the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center a couple weeks ago. In it he expressed his concerns and makes some excellent observations about the political environment and how it has changed over his 45 years of government service.

I do believe that we are now in uncharted waters when it comes to the dysfunction in our political system—and it is no longer a joking matter. It appears that as a result of several long-building, polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions of government, much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing the country.

Thus, I am more concerned than I have ever been about the state of American governance.

He continues with his reasons and examples. It's not a lengthy speech, but there's too much to copy here so go check it out for yourself. There is one point pertinent to this post about the paralyzed Joint Deficit Reduction Committee.

As a result of these and other polarizing factors, the moderate center—the foundation of our political system and our stability—is not holding. Just at a time when this country needs more continuity, more bipartisanship, and more compromise to deal with our most serious problems, all the trends are pointing in the opposite direction.

Indeed, “compromise” has become a dirty word—too often synonymous with a lack of principles or “selling out.” Yet, our entire system of government has depended upon compromise.

Going back to the Review article and the consequences if the committee is unable to agree on a budget plan.

...failure to produce a measure would trigger painful across-the-board cuts to the Pentagon budget and a big slice of domestic programs, including Medicare, food stamps and Medicaid. The idea behind this so-called sequester was to force the two sides to come together because the alternative is too painful.

“I made it clear to the Republican members of the supercommittee that I expect there will be an outcome, that there has to be an outcome,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday.

Note that "an outcome" is pretty ambiguous and there's going to be one regardless. But if tax increases are off the table, it's going to be the ugliest one.

A more optimistic scenario is that in coming days and weeks, members of the panel will become more flexible as the deadline nears.

Since we had a committee that was deadlocked before it was even created, anything is considered a more optimistic scenario.

Don't hold your breath.

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