If Shakespeare's Hamlet had had to face the current sequestering debate on Capitol Hill, he may never have finished his famous soliloquy or fixed upon a desirable course of action.
It appears that incompetence is reigning once again in our illustrious capital. Our elected officials cannot make up their minds on what, where and when to cut slices out of government spending. These cuts were already mandated by previous actions, an event that has taken on the fancy new title of "the sequester." As if fiscal cliff negotiations or the debt ceiling debacle were not enough to convince politicians to work together, the new game in town is to argue incessantly over how to cure the spending problem that the Grand Old Party (GOP) assures us is real.
Hamlet may have agonized over whether to live or die, but today’s recalcitrant Congressmen must fret over whether their political lives are in jeopardy if they deign to make one meager step toward a logical compromise. Millions in future campaign contributions are already lining up to find worthy opposing candidates to run in primaries in 2014, should any representative or senator choose to be a profile in courage and break ranks from the rank and file.
This debate, however, is about number details. Americans tend to tune out when the central issue is exactly how government expends our taxpayer dollars. Yes, it is easy to say spend less and shrink the federal bureaucracy, but where and when are the pivot points of the current debate. Support or resistance then takes on the form of timeworn catchphrases, designed to encourage emotional allegiance, regardless of the logic behind the associated proposals. Such is the case with our sound-bite mentality.
Conservatives, believing that replaying the same broken record will actually work, are shouting once more that our president does not have a plan. Even David Brooks of The New York Times, a moderate conservative who generally expresses arguments that make logical sense, is frustrated with the “fiscal idiocy," as he calls it. “Politicians in both parties are secretly discovering that they love sequestration now. It allows them to do the dance moves they enjoy the most.”
Brooks goes on to decry the antics of both Democrats and Republicans, claiming that both parties are guilty of performing dances that “are beautifully guaranteed to cause maximum damage to the country.” He even goes so far as to accuse President Barack Obama of failing to lead. “The president hasn’t actually come up with a proposal to avert sequestration, let alone one that is politically plausible. He does have a vague and politically convenient concept. (Tax increases on the rich!)”
Ezra Klein of The Washington Post took offense to that last statement and asked Brooks for a direct interview to justify his tirade. Surprisingly enough, Brooks capitulated with a question and answer session that highlighted his frustration at all levels. He was so moved that he added a postscript to his Friday’s op-ed piece that apologized for his “mood of justified frustration over the fiscal idiocy that is about to envelop the nation.”
He admitted that the president did have a plan and that, “I should have acknowledged the balanced and tough-minded elements in the president’s approach.” Wow! Thank you, David! Perhaps, there are a few remaining reasonable voices on the right side of the political spectrum who actually want to see real progress, not silly dance steps that march in unison into oblivion.
The primary issue is our struggling economic recovery. We have only to look across the Atlantic to observe that focusing on deficits and debt with time-honored austerity solutions is not the antidote for our current economic conundrum. Growth is the only viable solution that will cure all ills and pave the way to future prosperity. Measures that will lead to more jobs and convince corporate leaders that a dysfunctional government need not hamper continued domestic investment are the obvious actions to follow.
Our lawmakers, however, seem to be motivated only by fear. The current boogieman is the potential for a second recession, if government spending is cut too drastically before stable economic progress is a reality. Goldman Sachs has already warned us that an 11 percent cut in spending is coming over the next few years, a reality that is assured by stopping two major wars in their tracks. Postponing cuts in line with gains in the domestic market is an objective that even Republicans are beginning to accept.
Brooks has moved to this position, yet he believes that Republicans in Congress are still hung up on protecting the wealthy. “Here’s something I’m confused by: how much they still believe in top rate reductions. I would say in the conservative economist world I think I know almost nobody, maybe there are a few exceptions, who’s super motivated by top rate reductions anymore.”
Klein’s opinion is that the GOP stands to gain ground on most party lines, except for tax cuts, which could come later whenever the GOP assumes power again. In a companion piece, he argues that, “Democrats want a replacement that’s half taxes and Republicans oppose any replacement that includes any tax increases at all. Both sides are making the same mistake: They’ve gotten so obsessed with a dumb ratio that they’re not thinking clearly about the underlying policies.”
At the end of the day, sequestering is bad policy. It indiscriminately cuts spending, and the largest impact will be in 2013, when our economy is still trying to get out of the dismal ditch of slow to negative GDP growth. Both parties will win by compromising on a legitimate replacement, but the focus must be on growth and how to sustain it.
What would Hamlet have done? Shakespeare’s words may seem a bit stilted for current consumption, but he appears to have experienced the same turmoil way back when:
“Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action.”
Hamlet may have been consumed with taking revenge on his uncle, but fear of the unknown and thinking too much produced inaction. Congressmen need to stop fretting and act effectively, or voters will eventually exact their revenge. Lean Forward!
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References: Embedded links provided, but points made are primarily the opinion of the author.
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