I think Congress and the White House have given up the pretense that they are trying to work together to solve the nation’s problems. It’s not that they wouldn’t like to, it’s just that we, the citizens of the United States, have put demands on them they can’t come close to meeting. We’ve made it very clear they will be punished if they deviate from the expected party mantra, so the upshot is they don’t even bother to try.
This applies to both parties, so I’ll begin with the Republicans.
The first priority of any U.S. senator is to remain a U.S. senator, particularly now when the Republican Party is practically split in two. Most senators up for reelection are negotiating the new election turf very gingerly. Take Lindsey Graham from South Carolina. Clearly, he is a capable and highly respected senator, but he cast a few votes that the South Carolina Tea Party didn’t like. Suddenly, his approval numbers are in the toilet. Polls indicated he had a 35 percent approval rating in his home state, which for an incumbent generally means “so long.” At that point, Graham quickly reconnected with his Southern conservative roots and suddenly he was anti-Obama everything, particular anything related to Benghazi, which resonates with conservative Republican Southerners. So he went on the warpath to block Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, from becoming the Secretary of Defense. The attacks appear to be working politically for Graham (his recent approval rating is back up to 51%), and I suspect that after he’s maximized the political gain, Hagel will probably be confirmed. It’s cynical but effective.
The Republicans also control the House based upon some very effectively gerrymandered districts that came about after the 2010 elections. Republicans gained control of some of the governorships and statehouses that year and were able to draw congressional district lines in such a way that even though the vote was fairly evenly divided nationally, the Republicans maintained strong control of the House. In fact, in the last election for Congress in 2012, the Democrats polled 2 million more votes for Congress than the Republicans. Now, lest you think this is some power play thought up in some Republican think tank, the process of drawing district lines to help your own party is named after Eldridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts in 1814. He thought up the technique for his Democratic-Republican party, and it worked so well it caught on for the next 200 years.
On the other side of the aisle, the president has been beating the drums about sequestration, the bill passed by both the House and Senate which he signed last year to produce an automatic budget cut of 1.2 trillion dollars (that’s 1,200 billions of dollars) over the next 10 years if the parties couldn’t work out a better compromise. One half of the money comes out of the Defense budget and the other half comes out of everything else. According to the Democratic mantras, these massive cuts might take a still shaky economy and plunge us into another recession. The conclusion the President drew was that the Republican Party was totally irresponsible and that the Tea Party-driven Republicans would destroy the country before they’d even consider compromise.
I then took out my little $5 hand calculator and started to do the math. The cuts of $1,200 billion over 10 years means that an average cut would be $120 billion per years. That’s certainly not chump change. However, when you consider that our national budget to run the government is $3.8 trillion (roughly $3,800 billion per year), a cut of $120 billion a year is a 3.15% cut. If that’s enough to throw us into recession we’re in worse trouble then anyone is saying.
The bottom line is that everyone is playing games with these numbers and spinning them one way or the other. It’s time for a serious national dialogue and I notice that Simpson-Bowles, the Federal Commission that Obama previously appointed, has released its own revised plan, which attempts to bridge the gap between the Democratic plan and the various Republican plans. Last time, the commission’s recommendations got blown out of the water. But the politics have changed since the election and perhaps they will all rethink the suggested compromise and something might actually happen. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.