Thursday, September 1, 2011

Baucus’s gut-check

Posted on Thu, Sep 1, 2011 at 4:00 AM

John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner was vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt. He observed that the vice presidency was about as satisfying as “a pitcher of warm spit.” Cactus Jack also declared that New Deal-era Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler possessed the single most important attribute of a senator: “guts.”

We now have a government of gutless gridlock. Our president is hesitant, indecisive and clueless as a leader. Democratic and Republican finger-pointing has become a pointless game as the public increasingly realizes that both sides are more interested in short-term political gain than long-term solutions that would require some guts. Judging from the 14 percent approval rating of Congress, the people’s understandable short-term solution would be to give all the finger-pointers the finger, and start over.

Late last year, President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility presented a plan to the public for how to slow the growth of the debt and begin to reverse it. The commission is co-chaired by former Wyoming Republican Sen. Allan Simpson and former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat.

The Simpson-Bowles Commission, as it is commonly called, is recommending a set of proposals that aren’t radical. If followed, they would result in the U.S. government still spending 60 percent of GDP by 2023, down from nearly 100 percent now. If followed, the Simpson-Bowles recommendations would cause some pain, but would make it possible for our current system to sustain itself in more or less its current form beyond the next generation.

The plan is too comprehensive to present here, but it envisions cutting military forces in Europe and Asia by one-third. It would freeze federal employees’ pay for at least three years, and reduce cost-of-living increases for Social Security. It would also raise the age for full Social Security benefits from 67 to 69 by 2075. It would reduce farm subsidies and foreign aid.

Among its revenue provisions would be the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction and the earned income tax credit. It would raise the tax on gasoline by 15 cents a gallon.

Predictably, Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi has called Simpson-Bowles “simply unacceptable.” Not surprisingly, National Taxpayers Union boss Grover Norquist has sharply criticized it as well.

The latest gutless avoidance gimmick now being foisted on the public by one faction of finger-pointers is the so-called balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. One wonders why modern day “constitutionalists” have not been more outraged by this. Such a contrivance, once in the Constitution, would place the interpretation of it, and with it the ultimate “power of the purse,” in the hands of the unelected judiciary.

Polls show the frustrated American people have lost confidence in our elected leadership to the extent that they might accept such a an amendment. In truth, it would be the abandonment of our republican form of government.

Our country is in crises. Hard choices confront us. Our debt problem has been looming large for a decade. It is now a clear threat to our economic survival. Our president blames, dodges and dithers instead of leading. Congress finger-points and disappoints with inadequate actions and gimmickry. We don’t need to remove our social safety net or dismember our Constitution to directly deal with our national debt problem. What we need is leaders with guts. Montana Sen. Max Baucus is now in a key position to show he has what his Montana predecessor, Sen. Wheeler, apparently had plenty of. Now’s the time to show you’ve got ‘em, Max. You could save the country.

Bob Brown

Former Montana Secretary of State


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