Thanksgiving Day this week will mark the 49th anniversary of that fateful day in Dallas when Presidentwas assassinated. Nearly 50 years have passed, but for anyone who lived through that torturous period in our history, the memories refuse to fade away. Some may also recall Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of biographies entitled “Profiles in Courage,” published in 1955. A collaboration with Ted Sorenson, his speechwriter, it gained instant recognition as a treatise on selected politicians that had sacrificed their all for the national good.
A brief summary reads: “The book profiles senators who crossed party lines and/or defied the opinion of their constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions.” With that thought in mind, fast forward to the present, where talks have begun, once again, to deal with our so-called fiscal cliff, hopefully, in large measure before the first of the year. The business community and investors are yearning for quick action, without the drama that plagued earlier debt-ceiling negotiations.
Democrats are confident that they can deliver positive approval in the Senate, despite the apparent intransigence of archrival Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Election victories have improved the Democrat majority in the Senate, but a few more votes are still necessary to block a filibuster. If this new confidence is well-founded, however, then the spotlight quickly turns to the House, where Speakerholds the keys to success.
Will Boehner step forward and become a modern-day “Profile in Courage,” or will he cower before his Tea Party caucus and, refusing to consider even the slightest of increases in taxes to solve the problem? President Obama has already reiterated that a “balanced” approach—i.e., a combination of tax increases and spending cuts—is the only legislation that he will sign and is the only direction that the American electorate wishes to pursue, based on ample supportive polling data from the Nov. 6 election. Per our president, “Folks want action, not politics.”
Friday was a day for smiles and photo ops, as Obama conducted his first sit-down with Republicans following his re-election. For highly publicized gatherings such as these, the place where a person is seated is carefully choreographed, according to their perceived importance. On the president’s left sat, the majority leader of the Senate, and on his right sat Speaker Boehner. Other leaders were present, but camera shots were focused on this key triumvirate. , the conservative majority leader in the House, was conspicuously absent from the affair.
After the meeting concluded, smiles were shining once more for the cameras, while the most overused phrase that poured from everyone’s lips, almost in unison, was “it was a very constructive meeting.” Can we all rejoice, gather in a circle and sing “Kumbaya” together, arm in arm? Not on your life! We have seen this circus before, far too many times. Althoughhinted that “a solution may be in sight,” contributors of millions in campaign contributions to the Republican cause are demanding payback, hopefully some subtle legislation that favors the wealthy and big corporations.
Ben Bernanke is given credit for coining the term “fiscal cliff” during a hearing on the Hill to assign an inordinate amount of drama to what could happen on the first day of the new year. The Bush tax cuts, instituted in 2001 and 2003, will expire. Payroll tax cuts and extra unemployment benefits will cease, and material cuts in government spending, referred to as “budget sequestration,” will begin in line with previous agreements. This triple whammy could send the economy into a tailspin, some say a recession, in 2013. But analysts suggest that the impact will be gradual, resembling a “fiscal curve,” so to speak.
What happened to drive us to this cliff or curve? Fear of another recession led to government delays and inaction, but there is more to it than that. Conspiracy theorists suggest that the Bush cabal deliberately approved massive tax cuts, two wars, and a gift to the pharmaceutical industry without any accompanying funding resolutions for one sole reason—to create a deficit so large that the only way out would be to dismantle social legislative achievements for the past eighty years, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the safety net of unemployment and welfare benefits.
While there may be some validity to this line of reasoning, global market forces have also been redistributing wealth across the globe for decades. Outsourcing and off-shoring activities have cut a swath out of the middle class of America, but are there more facts that are being ignored? Hedrik Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, addresses this question in his new book, “Who Stole the American Dream?”
It is described as “an eye-opening account of how, over the past four decades, the American Dream has been dismantled and we became two Americas.” He purports that, at the suggestion of President Nixon’s “henchmen,” the business community went on the offensive after the tumultuous 1960s. Lobbying offices in Washington escalated from 157 to more than 2,000. Businessmen wrote biased legislation for their compliant partners in Congress, and marginal tax rates on the wealthy plummeted from 70 percent to 35 percent, while capital gain rates fell from 35 percent to 15 percent. Smith concludes, “We are at a defining moment for America. We must come together and take action to rejuvenate our nation and to restore fairness and hope in our way of life.”
A recent report from the Congressional Research Center also confirms that “the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth.” All signs of reason point to a more “balanced” approach, with the wealthy among us paying their fair share of taxes. Fairness is the issue, but Democrats are 20 votes short in the House. We need more than just Boehner to step forward and become “Profiles in Courage.” The clock is ticking! Lean Forward!