Friday, October 7, 2011

What do Americans want their government to do

The Bigger Picture
Published on September 1st 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

I closed my last column by observing that Congressional Republicans are putting their selfish personal political interests ahead of their country by pandering to no-compromise Tea Party activists in order to get re-elected. However, Republicans in Congress are not the only ones pandering to narrow minded, right wing interest groups in a bid to win elections. Almost all of the Republican Presidential candidates are also tripping over each other in an effort to appease Tea Party members as well as Christian fundamentalists. So what does this mean going forward?
In the more distant future, the impact is positive because it means the 2012 Republican Presidential candidate will in all likelihood endorse public policies and ideological positions that appeal to the extremist elements that currently control the Republican Party. However, as a consequence, American voters will also have a clear choice between either voting for a backward looking Republican Presidential candidate with a right wing political agenda or voting to re-elect a Democratic President with a much more forward looking and centrist legislative program.
Unfortunately the near term effect is decidedly negative because it means the partisan political paralysis in Washington DC, which almost lead to a historic default on America’s debt, will continue for at least another 18 months. With a national election looming, Republican candidates, whether they are running for Congress or for President, will be loathe to compromise with their Democratic counterparts on legislation that will address America’s anemic economic recovery and stubbornly high unemployment or the country’s bloated federal budget deficit.
Furthermore, even after the 2012 elections, any real action on these issues will still be contingent on the results of those elections. I believe Standard & Poor’s cut America’s AAA debt rating because its analysts agree with me that Republicans will not be able to win both the 2012 Presidential election and the 60 seats in the Senate they need so they will no longer have to compromise with Democrats after 2012. Given the fact that Republicans are unlikely to compromise regardless of the 2012 election results, a political solution for America’s debt problems also appears to be unlikely for at least one or two more election cycles.
Granted, as a part of the ‘deal’ Congressional Republicans and Democrats made with President Obama in order to avoid a bond default, a Congressional ‘Supercommittee’ will be created this month to decide by November 23 how America will cut more than $1.2 trillion of its debt. But given the Republican Party’s unwillingness to compromise, I seriously doubt that the 6 Republican and 6 Democratic members of this ‘Supercommittee’ will ever be able to agree on $1.2 trillion in budget cuts. Furthermore, even if they do reach an agreement by 23 November, both the Democratic controlled Senate and the Republican led House of Representatives will debate the ‘Supercommittee’s recommendations until Christmas or well into the New Year.
But the ‘Supercommittee’s’ budget cuts really only address the federal budget deficit over the next decade. In the meantime, Congress still has to approve the budget for the upcoming 2012 fiscal year which begins in October. Since Congress didn’t approve the 2011 budget until April of this year due to Republican intransigence, it is likely we will see more partisan political wrangling and the possibility of another government shutdown just in time for Christmas.
If the ‘Supercommittee’ is unable to agree on $1.2 trillion in budget cuts or if Congress does not approve the cuts it recommends, this will trigger automatic budget cuts for all US domestic programs as well as for the Defense Department. But as Standard & Poor’s noted, they downgraded America’s AAA debt rating because these cuts don’t demonstrate any significant progress by America’s dysfunctional Republican Party towards balancing America’s books.
So it will be up to America’s voters to decide what our government’s role in stimulating the economy and protecting the needs of its citizens should be when the cast their votes in 2012. I remain cautiously optimistic that they will choose more wisely than they did in 2010.

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