Members of the new Congressional Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction will have a threshold decision to make: Do they want to take their mandate seriously?
If the answer is yes, they will likely have to make decisions in the public interest that will not sit well with the party leaders who appointed them. If the answer is no, they will heighten public frustration with the political process and risk deep automatic cuts in programs many of them care about.
In this debt-limit game of musical chairs, the music has stopped and it’s time to grab a seat. The only one available is the deal worked out by congressional leaders and the Obama administration over the weekend. It is not a solution to our nation’s fiscal problems and is far from the “grand bargain” needed to put us on a sustainable path. However, a debt-limit deal needs to get done. This one at least avoids a self-inflicted wound caused by the government’s defaulting on its obligations, and it gives proponents of a grand bargain another turn at bat.
The debate over our nation’s finances has now reached what seems to be common place in Washington. As our country sits on the verge of default, both parties have retreated to their partisan foxholes, only coming out to throw the next dose of heated political rhetoric. In addition, nearly every interest group in Washington is scrambling to make sure its programs don’t get cut. Those without a voice stand to lose the most from this argument.
It is often said that the most expensive piece of medical equipment is the doctor’s pen. Unfortunately, after more than two years of intense debate about health care costs in Washington, politicians still seem stuck debating who should pay for the pen instead of focusing on how to make the pen less expensive.
The punch line of an old joke aptly describes the status of budget negotiations in Washington: you can’t get there from here. It’s not the “there” that is the problem; it’s the “here.”
Broad bipartisan consensus exists on two points. The first is that the debt limit must soon be raised to avoid a default in one form or another. The second is that current fiscal policy cannot be sustained. Missing from the equation is any solid evidence that political leaders are prepared to do what is necessary to solve either problem.
A viable plan to reduce our country’s mounting deficits and debt will be built on painful choices that include revenue increases and cuts to all government spending, including entitlements and defense. With such thorny issues at stake, it should come at no surprise that many policymakers turn to the easy issue first -- foreign aid. Even here, though, there are no exceptions to the need for government to act and spend strategically.