Dys­func­tional gov­ern­ment might save us

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Grady Means

The dis­mal state of our na­tional fi­nances is go­ing to re­quire that the United States down­size the gov­ern­ment over the next four years. We don’t have any other op­tions. At the same time, we must fight any ex­pan­sion of gov­ern­ment that will guar­an­tee the bankrupt­ing of our coun­try and mort­gag­ing of our fu­ture. Un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, Amer­ica is well on the way to be­com­ing a mort­gage-backed se­cu­rity that not even Gold­man Sachs would try to sell.

As the dust set­tles on the elec­tion of 2012, the re­sults are con­clu­sive, but not de­ci­sive. Amer­ica will have Mr. Obama in the White House, a Demo­crat-run Se­nate and a Repub­li­can-run House. The close split of the pop­u­lar vote sug­gests that Amer­ica is con­cerned about the eco­nomic man­age­ment of the coun­try and the need for cost re­duc­tion (the Rom­ney vote), but is con­vinced that the pres­i­dent can lead us out of the mess in a way that is “fair” to ev­ery­one (the Obama vote). We even re­tained that “dys­func­tional” Repub­li­can gang in the House to put the brakes on any re­ally bad ideas.

The prob­lem is that there is a vast store of ev­i­dence that the pres­i­dent is ex­cel­lent at win­ning elec­tions, but very poor at po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship. For the past three years, he has sub­mit­ted bud­gets that have been re­jected by both the House and Se­nate by nearly unan­i­mous votes. His con­cept of fed­eral bud­get­ing is com­pletely out of touch with po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity and the U.S. fis­cal cri­sis, and his abil­ity to bring Congress to­gether to pass his eco­nomic leg­is­la­tion has been non-ex­is­tent. Even for­mer House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was said to have put him on “mute” while he lec­tured the House Demo­cratic lead­er­ship team on the bud­get cri­sis.

Now comes the im­per­a­tive that Amer­ica deal quickly with its fis­cal cri­sis be­fore we be­come the next Greece. The pres­i­dent has al­ready, pre­dictably, formed a com­mit­tee (Simp­son-Bowles), re­ceived their rec­om­men­da­tions and promptly ig­nored their re­sults be­cause they were po­lit­i­cally in­con­ve­nient as well as counter to his per­sonal ide­o­log­i­cal views.

We must im­me­di­ately ad­dress the “fis­cal cliff” — all the tax in­creases slated to hit in Jan­uary — and the im­pend­ing bank­ruptcy of the coun­try. The so­lu­tion will re­quire ma­jor cuts in dis­cre­tionary spend­ing, re­form of Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity and some form of rev­enue gen­er­a­tion. It will re­quire un­prece­dented eco­nomic in­sight, pol­icy vi­sion and very skilled po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship — all qual­i­ties in short sup­ply in this ad­min­is­tra­tion.

What will the pres­i­dent do? Most likely, he will pro­pose that the Bush tax cuts on the “wealthy” ex­pire and per­haps even pro­pose new tax in­creases un­der the rubric of fair­ness. He will form a com­mit­tee on So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care re­form and give them a year to pro­duce pro­pos­als. He will sub­mit a bud­get with few real cuts in dis­cre­tionary spend­ing. He will lec­ture but not lis­ten.

The House will re­spond with a flat “no.” Mr. Obama will scream, “dys­func­tional.” That is to­tally fine.

To para­phrase Mil­ton Fried­man, “Thank God for dys­func-

We must im­me­di­ately ad­dress the “fis­cal cliff” — all the tax in­creases slated to hit in Jan­uary — and the im­pend­ing bank­ruptcy of the coun­try. The so­lu­tion will re­quire ma­jor cuts in dis­cre­tionary spend­ing, re­form of

Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity and some form of rev­enue gen­er­a­tion.

tional gov­ern­ment.”

The eco­nomic is­sues Amer­ica faces are daunt­ing and very im­por­tant.

What was la­beled “dys­func­tional” dur­ing the heated de­bate over the debt ceil­ing was not only es­sen­tial, it was Amer­i­can democ­racy at its best. It pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity for re­fresh­ing, hon­est and tough ar­gu­ment over crit­i­cal is­sues.

The last thing Amer­ica needs is for the pres­i­dent to try to continue to “kick the can down the road” (his words).

The pub­lic po­lit­i­cal split over how to ad­dress our cur­rent crises re­quires a rig­or­ous and dif­fi­cult de­bate. Dis­agree­ment, rather than be­ing an in­con­ve­nience, is an es­sen­tial re­flec­tion of the pub­lic mood. Hard-nosed bar­gain­ing is nec­es­sary and to be wel­comed in a democ­racy like Amer­ica. Lead­er­ship and com­pro­mise are es­sen­tial. The pres­i­dent has been averse to ei­ther. Sen. Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid has made it clear he will have none of it. We are head­ing for an ugly dead­lock that must be avoided.

The House should im­me­di­ately seize the ini­tia­tive and work with the Simp­son-Bowles rec­om­men­da­tions with in­put from busi­ness lead­ers, union lead­ers se­ri­ous about real re­form and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to ad­dress our eco­nomic cri­sis. The House should also take the ini­tia­tive in reach­ing out to a bi­par­ti­san coali­tion in the Se­nate to ne­go­ti­ate a deal. Then, let’s have a re­ally dys­func­tional fight to arrive at real so­lu­tions for the coun­try. Grady Means is a busi­ness­man, for­mer as­sis­tant to Vice Pres­i­dent Nel­son Rock­e­feller and for­mer econ­o­mist at the U.S. Depart­ment of Health, Ed­u­ca­tion and Wel­fare.

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