Well, for starters, Congress has been concentrating on the books. The numbers are challenging:
The unemployment rate, while on a promising downward trend in recent months, remains frustratingly high, 8.3 percent in February, according to the government.
Of all the U.S. homes with a mortgage, 3.4 percent — a figuring equal to 1.4 million households — were in some sort of foreclosure in February.
The long-term futures of Medicare and Social Security require shoring up in order to guarantee that both these programs remain solvent.
The nation’s tax code is an unwieldy 16,000-page monster with breaks for every special interest with enough pull to get Congress to toss one more brick on the pile.
The trick is to address all these challenges through a series of steps.
The federal government must have more revenue, which will mean raising taxes on those who can most afford it.
The nation needs serious spending adjustments, particularly in the area of defense. For too long the United States fell into a pattern of rarely saying no to a larger Pentagon budget. The U.S. military budget is said to be three to four times larger than the one in China. To restore balance, no area can be spared, including defense.
In order to bolster Social Security, several options present themselves. Those include adjusting the age at which its benefits begin. Tweaking the payroll tax that supports it could secure its longevity past the middle of this century, when most of the Baby Boomers will no longer be with us.
While working through these problems, Congress and the president must proceed with caution. We are still shakily recovering from the economic collapse of 2008. In fact, some of the nation’s debt is due to steps taken to keep the nation from slumping even deeper into a trough. Too much too soon could send us backward.
For context, most of the current debt was rung up via two expensive wars, a Medicare prescription-drug benefit and a tax cut that primarily benefited the wealthiest Americans. All of those costly policy decisions are part of Washington’s unreality sideshow. How do we pay for these things, some asked in the previous decade? A shrug of the shoulders was the most intelligent answer offered.
On Wednesday evening, Congress had a chance to vote on the policy corrections listed above. The source for the bill was the president’s own bipartisan debt-reduction commission, led by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. The commission’s proposals were orphaned at birth. President Barack Obama has kept an arm’s-length relationship with the Simpson-Bowles fixes. Most congressional Republicans won’t go near anything with even the mention of tax increases.
While far from perfect, Simpson-Bowles forthrightly faces reality, noting that repairing the nation will require a mixed plan of spending cuts, tax increases and adjustments to social programs. The House crushed a version of Simpson-Bowles Wednesday night, with 38 members supporting it to 382 opposing it.
The unreality rolls on.