Last weekend, a government shutdown was barely avoided when Congress agreed to a spending plan for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year. There are several points to consider moving forward.
The 2011 budget year began six months ago, on Oct. 1. Washington pulled together a deal in the 11th hour last Friday — literally — over a budget that should have been approved last September.
Coming soon will be fights over raising the nation’s debt ceiling above the current $14.25 trillion, the 2012 budget and long-term strategies to simultaneously reduce the nation’s debt and stimulate the nation’s economy.
The way forward is difficult enough without partisan rancor. Tossing in sniping, sideshow antics and posturing over the trivial will make it nearly impossible.
President Barack Obama has thus far missed an opportunity to forcefully lead on the issue of the nation’s financial future. In a speech today, Obama is expected to rely on the recommendations of the bipartisan debt commission he created last year. The Bowles-Simpson plan calls for reductions in entitlements, spending cuts and increased taxes.
That the president all but ignored the plan from its completion in December until now is a mystery. From here it appears the past four months have slipped away with very little to show for it in the way of progress.
Into this vacuum, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., presented his deficit-reduction plan last week. The chairman of the House Budget Committee would cut domestic spending, leave defense spending virtually untouched, cut corporate and individual taxes and eliminate Medicare as it is currently structured.
The House Republican freshmen swept into office behind a Tea Party breeze appear to be itching to indiscriminately take an ax to the federal government. It’s an open question whether House Speaker John Boehner and other experienced Republican elders can restrain the hard-charging freshmen.
The 2012 election can’t be ignored as a factor in this process. The good instincts of members of Congress are subject to political instincts.
Each side knows and plays its roll well. Republicans will cry foul over proposed tax increases. Democrats will squawk over suggested adjustments to Social Security and other social safety-net programs.
If each side strictly plays to their die-hard constituents, then the nation remains frozen in indecision and the crisis grows.
The nation’s fiscal priorities should be (a.) don’t disrupt the fragile economic recovery, (b.) reduce the national debt and (c.) spread the pain fairly when devising a remedy. Now is the time for leaders to step forward.