Sunday, July 10, 2011

A FORK IN THE ROAD

The negotiations over the debt ceiling are truly shaping up as one of the great dramas of our time. If only they weren’t so important, this would be pretty entertaining stuff.

As a progressive, it is easy for me to fear what might happen – massive cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and minimal tax increases for wealthy individuals and corporations. After all, President Obama doesn’t have the best track record in negotiating huge deals; he tends to unilaterally give up a ton at the start and then search for a meaningful compromise, which is not exactly a technique taught in Negotiations classes.

Still, every now and then, I wonder if the debt ceiling talks might actually provide a much needed opportunity for Washington to address some of its long term problems. Amassing huge quantities of debt offends me as a son of two children of the Great Depression. It’s time to live within our means, wouldn’t you say? Our tax code is a nightmare in terms of not only its complexity but its ridiculous and offensive giveaways to special interests. Can’t we at least get that code reformed? And if in order to stop our passion for deficit spending, we need to generate more revenue than what can be accomplished merely by closing loopholes, isn’t it time to roll back those Bush tax cuts, at least insofar as they benefit the wealthy?

What did you say? The Republicans will never go for it? Well they might, if the Democrats are willing to put spending cuts on the table, and I think they will and they should – not necessarily Medicaid, but Medicare and even Social Security. As sad as it would be to take part of the nest egg away from of our nation’s aged and infirm, as long as our wealthy are being asked to take on their fair share of the burden, middle class Americans should be willing to pitch in as well. We owe it to our children and grandchildren, who for years have been subsidizing our fiscal irresponsibility.

So are we headed in the direction of increasing the marginal tax rate for wealthy individuals, closing the tax loopholes, and making Medicare, Social Security, and for that matter, the military, a bit leaner and meaner? Many would oppose this course on the grounds that we’re already suffering economically, so it seems an inopportune time to think about budget cuts and tax increases. But if not now, when? If we whiff on this opportunity to confront the National Debt, despite the fact that the problem is now at the center of our focus, do we really think another opportunity will come around any time soon? Trust me, when it comes to making short term concessions to advance long term goals, this nation has developed a pretty sorry track record lately. If there is an emerging consensus on the need for serious debt reduction, we might want to take this shot while we can.

In short, despite what all the Chicken Littles are saying, the unfolding drama that is now unfolding in Washington might actually produce welcome, as well as nightmarish, results. Truth be told, I suppose I’m still a bit pessimistic, but maybe President Obama will surprise us. Or better still, maybe Speaker Boehner will surprise us. It will be pretty exciting to find out.

ON A FINAL NOTE: I will be on the road for nearly all of the remainder of July, so it is unlikely there will be any more Empathic Rationalist posts until the month’s end. I hope you all are having a great summer and look forward to posting again in the hot and humid month of August.

Take care.

1 comment:

Nagarjuna said...

Daniel, I'm not sure taking "part of the nest egg away from our nation's aged and infirm" would be equivalent to "asking the wealthy to take on their fair share of the burden." It seems to me that the latter may be far more justifiable than the former, unless the "aged and infirm" to which you refer are wealthy enough to pay more or receive less without undue hardship.