Too Many Cans Kicked Down Road
That clattering you hear coming from all directions is the sound of cans being kicked down roads.
The teeny rattle is the juice can of Greece. Somewhat louder are the No. 303 cans of Ireland and Portugal, and the No. 21/2 of Italy. The giant rumbling is the oil drum in Washington.
The Greeks and the rest of Europe have solved nothing. Greece has been given - I mean loaned - more money it cannot possibly repay. The austerity charade will go on for a time.
Current speculation is that it may end sooner than later, at which point the whole thing may be repeated, or, quite possibly, Greece will leave or be expelled from the European Union, panic about other countries' situations will spread, the Union and/or the Euro may collapse, and whatever currency Greece is left with will be inflated beyond recognition. Meanwhile those other countries are busy with their own footwork.
The clanging here at home is becoming deafening. After first toeing Co-president Pelosi's line, refusing to discuss entitlement reform and insisting on a tax increase for "millionaires and billionaires" (Are you as sick of that as I am? Millionaire is to billionaire as one dollar is to $1,000 - think about it), Mr. Obama reversed course and tried for the big fix, albeit vaguely - spending, entitlements and tax increases all together.
John Boehner went along, as long as tax increases took the form of simplification and elimination of loopholes, conveniently undefined.
Thus far, and this is being written midweek, both conferences have rejected their leaders' leadership and are waltzing around progressively bizarre half-measures obviously designed, though no one will say so, to get past the next election, which they both hope to win.
The Democrats' resistance to entitlement reform has me baffled. Any third-grader can do the math: The money is not there. The reform proposals center on means-testing and pushing the FICA tax up the income scale. What is there for a Democrat not to like? The wealthy will pay more. Isn't that what they want?
The Republicans deserve plenty of heat too. Granted, closing "loopholes" (one man's loophole is another man's right) is not going to span the budget gap, or even make much of a start, but it is political insanity to resist doing so.
There are still a couple of weeks left before the Aug. 2 (or so) deadline forces some kind of agreement. Maybe all will end in sweetness and light; maybe comity will envelop the capital and bipartisan foursomes will flood the local links. Maybe.
My bet is that the agreement, and there will be one, will be accompanied by the loudest clattering yet. The debt ceiling will be raised. There will be more promises and more commissions. Maybe Simpson and Bowles would like a return engagement; their first one went so well. Politicians will say they just can't resolve anything until after the election. Which election, exactly, is that?
It is unfortunate that Europe is hitting the fiscal wall at just this time. That is keeping the deficit hawks at bay, as panicked investors shift to American markets as a safe haven. That may well be delusional, but it is keeping our interest rates low and our stock market high, where the opposite trends, however painful, would force action in the capital.
Ideologues have seized, or seized up, our national government, and the wild swings of the past three election cycles have only hardened their positions. Given our primary system of choosing candidates, it seems that only those with extreme views can be nominated, thus assuring the election of one zealot or the other.
Both sides appear to be going all in on the notion that being intransigent now will result in political victory in 2012; they may well be right, but who will win, and at what cost?
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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