Gonna Be a Long Two Years in D.C.
At last, the 122nd Congress is officially at bat. Will the Republicans even attempt to live up to their promises, or are we in for a holding session, as Macbeth so eloquently put it, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"?
There are so many variables. Fiscal responsibility has been the linchpin of Republican rhetoric since the tea party appeared on the scene. The generality makes for excellent sound bites; the specifics are something else altogether.
There seems to be a general willingness to at least twiddle around the edges of discretionary spending. Since spending bills must originate in the House, if Speaker John Boehner can keep his troops in line, there is probably a good chance that some of the most egregious waste, fraud and abuse (those worn-out shibboleths of the right) can be identified and possibly even reduced.
There are several congressional committees claiming to be prepared to do just that. Chipping away a few scores of billions of dollars from the federal budget is not nothing; it is just not enough.
Will the House try to do more, and if it does, is there any chance it will succeed? The answers are maybe and no. As has been made clear by every competent analysis of federal spending, doing more requires reducing the cost of Medicare and Social Security.
Scrapping the tax code and starting over from square one is also a practical necessity. Unless something on the order of the conversion of St. Augustine occurs in the Senate and at the White House, there will be no progress there.
Then there is the military. Unless the Republicans are willing to take a pragmatic look at the quagmire in Afghanistan, unwanted over-budget weapons systems and overextended deployments and bases, the ink in that department will continue to flow as red as the blood of our soldiers.
Cutting spending is not enough. Spending must be redirected from consumption to investment - in education, in infrastructure, in business development. That is how to create those jobs, jobs, jobs.
The president, who refused even to meet with Republican leaders while plotting legislation during his first two years in office, is now suddenly strewing petals of bipartisanship across the political landscape. Is he sincere, or is he just trying to force Republicans to make unpopular proposals? Will they do so?
While the liberal lunacy of the past two years has at least been slowed, the next two years are going to be all about positioning for the 2012 election and waiting to see how the economy performs as deficits roll on. If that sounds cynical, it is. Cynicism is the current lifeblood of our politics.
Both parties know they are stymied. If divided government has proven beneficial in the past, that is not the case today. In calmer times, such division may have led to rational compromise among thoughtful men. That does not seem likely now. If there is any common ground between Eric Cantor and Anthony Wiener, it is well concealed. Calmer times are not in prospect.
The Republicans will spend the next two years debating - and possibly even passing - legislation in the House designed to display their fiscal rectitude and embarrass Democrats, knowing that it will never make it into law. Like a peacock's display of tail feathers, this will all be designed to attract voters in 2012.
The Democrats, on the other hand, will be accusing Republicans of pandering to the rich, while hoping desperately for a strong economic recovery that will raise revenues and their hopes for 2012.
None of this even touches on the states, many of which are in fiscal holes requiring draconian cutbacks, even as they lose population and tax revenue. Whatever chance California, New York, Illinois and the others had of federal help is probably gone with the new Congress.
Settle in. It is going to be a long two years, whatever your political persuasion. This may not be any way to run a country, but it is what we are saddled with as long as our politicians are obsessed with re-election and the pursuit of money to compete, and voters are too complacent or too ignorant to care.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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