Sunday, July 31, 2011

What, Compromise?: As Speaker John Boehner Said, "It can Be Done!"

By Mary Claire Kendall

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)
Credit: Associated Press

There was a time, way back in 1995, when Congress actually cared about balancing its budget.

Remember the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act?

It's what gave President Bill Clinton bragging rights to a surplus by the end of his term. That and President George H.W. "read my lips, no new taxes" Bush's tax increase, which paved the way to Clinton's growing economy and balanced budgets.

But, President Barack Obama doesn't have such a rich political inheritance. The missing "H" in his predecessor's name made all the difference in the world to Obama's success.

And, one thing Congress can do is read polls, especially the polls showing that since Obama's "Eat Your Peas" press conference on June 29, he's tanked in voter approval.

Having offered no real solutions or leadership, instead preferring to scold Congress—and sic the American public on Congressional switchboard operators—the President has basically painted himself into a corner, with a bowl of peas to eat all by himself.

As Frank Newport of Gallup reported this week:
    President Obama is in a somewhat more perilous situation now, based on his job approval ratings, than was President Clinton in late 1995, when Clinton faced off against Gingrich over similar budget issues. Clinton's job approval rating was above 50% during most of the shutdown, and continued at that level from February 1996 through the November election, which he won. Obama's job approval ratings in recent weeks have been significantly lower.

Look for further erosion in his polls given anemic economic growth the Commerce Department reported on July 29: the second quarter's 1.3% GDP growth, much less than expected; the first quarter revised down from 1.9% to .4%.

Of course, the Tea Party Caucus may yet revive Obama's sinking fortunes instead of the economy. Apparently the wisdom Republican leaders hoped The Town would impart, is still sinking in, namely: "… this not f#%*ing around thing is about to go both ways."

Is Washington a great place, or what?

But, presuming, in James Carville's words, the Tea Party Caucus finally "takes the white flag"—and House passage early Friday night of the Boehner plan is a hopeful sign—Obama will then perform one function: signing or vetoing the bill raising the debt ceiling.

Now, for the actual "solution":

Congress is apparently coalescing around some semblance of the plans offered by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), with a dash of McConnell and G-6 Plans—seasoned legislators' practical genius—added in for good measure, i.e., to help the measures pass!

The Boehner plan seems very reasonable—raising the debt ceiling by $900 billion until February 2012 for $917 billion in CBO-certified cuts; instituting budget caps to guard against budget creep; while, just like Reid's plan, a "committee" of six Democrat and six Republican Members of Congress sort out the other roughly $2 trillion in cuts and revenue increases, derived from a reformed tax code oriented toward job-creation. 

Remember The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act?

Even the Missouri Compromise needed a committee to achieve its success!

Boehner is basically saying, let's come back in six months and see how the patient is doing. Maybe Uncle Sam's meds will need to be adjusted, but at least he'll be on the right track. Reid prefers raising the debt limit in one fell swoop by $2.5 trillion, for $2.4 trillion in CBO-certified cuts, lasting through the 2012 election.

The real sweetener will be achieved by focusing on "where the jobs are"—since job creation is what will ultimately dig us out of the hole.

Boehner argues jobs come predominantly from the private sector and excessive taxes kill jobs, which Reid apparently agrees with given his "no taxes" plan. As Boehner said in his concise remarks to the nation on Monday, July 25:

   These are difficult times… Millions are looking for work, have been for some time, and the spending binge going on in Washington is a big part of the reason why. Before I served in Congress, I ran a small business in Ohio. I was amazed at how different Washington, DC operated than every business in America. Where most American businesses make the hard choices to pay their bills and live within their means, in Washington more spending and more debt is business as usual. I've got news for Washington—those days are over.

Obama's "fair" and "balanced" approach, on the other hand, emphasizes government "investments" to help Americans get jobs, not create them.

Boehner's plan—what's "doable," in his opinion—is Reid's plan, but in two steps, lest the time-honored tradition of "Washington gimmicks" and "phony accounting" be allowed to overtake this mad dash to cobble together, at the 11th hour, a bill just to get the debt ceiling raised—conveniently through the 2012 election.

The six-month check up would focus sharply on what's at stake in the 2012 election—whether government should pick winners and losers; or give us the freedom to chart our own economic course—America's foundational principle.

The Tea Party's request, in the spirit of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, that a balanced budget amendment be added to the bill, would help advance the latter vision.

But, most of all it's time for action and achieving what's possible—not the ideal.

As Speaker Boehner said in his remarks on the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Friday before the vote on his bill, quoting President Ronald Reagan (quoting Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle), "IT CAN BE DONE!"

Published for the first time on American Politics and Policy, Wednesday, September 28, 2011.

Originally published in AND Magazine on Saturday, July 30, 2011.

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