Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

October 17, 2013

The real deficit's in leadership

By Tom Purcell
The Daily Iowegian

---- — Man, this gov­ernment shut­down is making Amer­ica look foolish.

“I agree with you. I am certainly no fan of the shutdown. But the division in Washington is a reflection of the division in our representative republic.

“I think it’s a reflection of a total lack of leadership among our politicians in Washington.”

“You speak the truth, and there is plenty of blame to go around. When President Obama ran for office, he convinced voters that he would bring civility to Washington and transcend partisanship. He said his administration would be the most transparent in history.”

“That didn’t work out so well.”

“That is unfortunately true. The president chose to push three major bills — the stimulus, ObamaCare and banking reform — through with virtually zero support from the other party. ObamaCare is still unpopular with a large number of Americans. He had to assume there would be a backlash.”

“You are talking about the tea party people?”

“Yes. The media love to portray these people as close-minded or even racist, but the vast majority of them are good middle-class people who are afraid that their children and grandchildren will never know the opportunities they enjoyed as young people if America doesn’t get its finances in order.”

“Cheers to that!”

“The backlash to Obama’s policies resulted in Republicans taking over the House in 2010 and some seats in the Senate, and putting lots of fiscal conservatives in office. Many won on a promise to stop ObamaCare. Sen. Ted Cruz really rocked the boat when he promised House Republicans he could get the votes in the Senate to defund ObamaCare.”

“And so we’ve had a shutdown?”

“Yes — House Republicans initially voted on a spending bill that would fully fund the government but defund ObamaCare. Then Republicans voted to delay its implementation for one year. Then they asked that nobody, particularly Congress and its staff, get special waivers to pay for ObamaCare.”

“That doesn’t sound unreasonable. It’s not fair that politically connected people and groups are getting waivers or funding credits that millions of us will never get.”

“Now, we are approaching the debt-ceiling deadline this Thursday and Republicans hope to negotiate various entitlement and spending reforms with the president as part of a new debt-limit deal.”

“I thought President Obama established a commission to come up with proposals on how to do that.”

“That is correct. During his first term, the president established the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — also known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission. The bipartisan commission offered several sensible ideas to get our government in order over the long term. Unfortunately, the president has pretty much ignored the commission’s findings.”

“We are on an unsustainable path, aren’t we?”

“Absolutely unsustainable. David Walker, a political independent who was the nation’s top auditor in the Government Accountability Office, told the Seattle Times how bad our financial situation really is. He said our debt is $17 trillion, but our unfunded promises for Social Security and other entitlement programs total $73 trillion.”

“That’s a lot of cabbage.”

“Walker has several ideas to address the spending challenge and many mirror the findings of Obama’s commission. Some are not horribly painful and can be enacted over time. For instance, to salvage Social Security, he recommended that we index the retirement age to increases in life expectancy. Or, to bring in more tax revenue, cut down on the exemptions and deductions that disproportionately benefit the wealthy.”

“Sounds reasonable to me.”

“It isn’t just reasonable. It is completely necessary. Real reform requires extraordinary leadership and that leadership has to come from the president. He is the only leader in Washington for whom all Americans had a chance to vote, according to Walker. He has the bully pulpit.”

“What if he doesn’t take the lead on these issues?”

Tom Purcell is an author and a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist.