Taxes, Spending, and Washington’s Bipartisan Conspiracy of Cowardice

Regardless of who’s in power, serious reform is necessary.

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By Scott Galupo, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

In the short term, news of Rep. Bart Stupak's retirement is going to inspire chatter of a "breakdown of civility," increasing polarization, a lack of any significant bipartisan cooperation on major issues—all the stuff that's purportedly making Washington, D.C., a lousy place to work. But here's why I'd want to retire if I were in Congress: the specter of facing an electorate that is utterly unprepared to deal with the country's fiscal problems.

As Stan Collender writes, in response to a recent Economist/YouGov poll:

"almost two-thirds—62 percent—of those responding said that they wanted to cut spending to reduce the budget deficit rather than raise taxes. But just three questions later, the only are of federal spending that a majority—71 percent—was willing to cut was foreign aid."

Which, as we dreaded Beltway insiders know, constitutes less than one percent of federal spending, and a large portion of which goes to Israel.

The problem isn't unique to America; it seems to be endemic to all developed nations' economies, according to this Washington Post article. It gets worse: The fiscal train, at least here in America, is quite literally beyond the control of our politics. It's driven largely by the overall performance of the economy and by nondiscretionary segments of the budget. (Please, readers, spare me your graphs showing a spike in the deficit under Obama; it would've happened under McCain, too.)

Long-term deficits can't be solved by a combination of painful spending cuts and tax increase alone. These will be necessary, but according to the Washington Post's Ezra Klein, they'll need to be accompanied by a significant restructuring of the overall entitlement system.

What's to be done?

Just posing the question in these bleak terms seems to put one in the ChiCom-truckling company of Thomas Friedman. But I'm not ready—yet—to acquiesce to all the talk about the America's "ungovernability."

The seemingly obtuse polling data described above is still, in my opinion, indicative of a failure of the political class. We don't know—yet—how American voters would respond to elected officials who honestly reckoned with our fiscal problems. Both parties have been guilty of entitlement demagoguery: Democrats savaged Newt Gingrich in the 1990s for proposing to "slow the growth" of Medicare. Today's Democrats, led by budget guru Peter Orszag, call it "bending the curve"—for which Republicans, returning the favor, promptly savaged them.

It's a bipartisan conspiracy of cowardice: two major parties populated by short-term, transactional fools.

And that is why America, not just Washington, is "broken."

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