Buck up, Congress

Friday, November 25, 2011

"We give up."

Those three words, capturing the essence of the so-called supercommittee's failure to reach an agreement on reducing the federal debt-deficit-spending spree, should have been cause for mass celebrations in every American city and village.

Instead, the news that the Gang of Twelve could not overcome its re-electile dysfunction was received glumly. The stock markets, already shaken by gross fiscal mismanagement across Europe, took another dive.

And within minutes after Monday's announcement, members of Congress and even the president began making more promises they can't keep: We will protect military spending. We will extend jobless benefits. We will protect payroll tax cuts.

And, of course, we will bring federal spending under control.

If you use the word "stupid," do you apply it to elected officials who will say anything, or to voters who elected them, or to Americans who should be taking part in our representational democracy but refuse to go to the polls on Election Day?

As for the Gang of Twelve's failure to even make an honest start in fulfilling their charge, I say, "Hurrah!"

Now Congress and the president -- remember Congress? remember the president? -- can do the job they were supposed to do all along: lead the nation through these perilous swamps in which we find ourselves stranded. Of course, this would mean paying less attention to re-election polls and more to the dire economic situation that threatens the world economy.

At some point, elected officials in Washington are going to have to face the simple reality that it will take both spending cuts and increased sources of revenue to save the nation financially. Shame on anyone who says, "I will never vote to increase taxes." Shame on anyone who says the military cannot take a hit. Shame on every member of Congress who sanctimoniously says, "It's everyone's fault but mine."

The Gang of Twelve's prospects were doomed from the start. From the moment they were appointed, the dozen representatives and senators knew -- without a doubt -- that its failure to produce a responsible fiscal plan would never result in the supposedly horrendous budget slashing Americans were promised.

This is why we aren't dancing in the streets. If the cuts -- promised by the debt-limit agreement that pushed the U.S. economy closer to the brink of disaster -- had been something we could count on, the Gang of Twelve would have spent less time diddling and more time acting like responsible grown-ups.

Bring on the cuts that were promised if the supercommittee failed to act. Let's see what real budget balancing looks like.

Remember budget balancing? A bunch of Republican candidates who want to live in the White House say they favor a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. But if no one is willing to make real spending cuts, how would that work exactly?

Congressional approval ratings have dropped so low they now mirror the interest rates on certificates of deposit. Folks, you can't get any lower than that.

This week's developments in the national spending-taxing debate have shown us why. Let's see if anyone -- congressional or presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat -- has the guts to do what's right.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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