Congress should embrace reality

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There are any number of reasons why the American people give our members of Congress approval ratings akin to those accorded to festering boils on one’s backside, and one of them is lawmakers’ resolute refusal to operate within the bounds of reality and reason.


For example, earlier this week, House Republicans unveiled a 10-year budget plan that borders on the ridiculous.


House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan says his “Path to Prosperity,” in its latest incarnation, “ends cronyism, eliminates waste, fraud and abuse, and returns the federal government to its proper sphere of activity.” It’s also a purely political document that has exactly zero chance of being enacted.


You see, a large chunk of the “savings” Ryan claims in his proposal would come from the repeal of President Obama’s health care law. Ryan conveniently forgets that this Obama fellow is still in the White House, and will remain in the White House until 2017. We think it highly unlikely that Obama would sign off on killing the signature measure of his first term, even if its death were to be ordained by Congress. Of course, it won’t be, at least not by this Congress, and if it were, the idea that there would be enough votes to override a certain presidential veto is even more of a stretch.


But the transparent accounting tricks continue. Ryan’s plan also counts savings of nearly $1 trillion over the next decade as the result of ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Of course, that’s money that wasn’t going to be spent anyway. It’s hardly a major budgetary achievement. It’s more like smoke and mirrors.


As before, Ryan’s plan targets government programs that benefit those least able to fend for themselves. He would slash more than $750 billion from Medicaid, which provides health care access for the poor and sick. And he continues to press the Republican goal of turning Medicare into a voucher program that undoubtedly would provide the elderly with less health coverage at a higher personal cost, which makes it a regressive tax on the less affluent.


In a Reuters report, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Ryan budget also would provide additional tax breaks to the wealthy (no surprise there) and actually increase the tax burden on the middle class. Food inspections and law enforcement would be among the essential government services to see cuts under the plan, according to Reid.


That said, we fully support rooting out waste and duplication in government spending, and doing away entirely with those programs and projects that aren’t necessary for the greater good. There is, for example, plenty of waste and misguided spending to be cut from the Pentagon budget, but Ryan’s “Path” pretends that option doesn’t even exist.


At the same time, carefully targeted spending – even some increases in spending – can be beneficial, not only in providing for the needs of the people but also in stimulating the economy. For instance, the nation’s roads and bridges are in desperate need of a major public works program that would bring them up to reasonable standards, while having the added benefit of creating tens of thousands of jobs across the country.


Though we are critical of the Republicans for their unrealistic approach to the budget, we don’t believe the Democrats in Congress, or the president, have all the answers, either.


It is our hope, foolish as it may seem, that those in both parties could put their partisan posturing aside and, rather than working for the benefit of one interest group or another, try instead to craft reasonable policies and spending plans that would at once address concerns about living beyond our means while maintaining programs that are truly necessary and/or broadly beneficial.


It would take some compromise, a commodity sorely lacking in today’s political realm, but wouldn’t it be nice if these goals could be achieved without our elected representatives steering the country to the brink of yet another fiscal calamity?


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