Monday, August 01, 2011

Our problem is not the 87 Freshmen in Congress

I, and pretty much everyone who reads this, want to be rid of the 87 GOP freshman representatives because they are standing in the way of responding sensibly and effectively to the economic crisis of our lifetimes.

We dismiss them as know-nothing Tea Partiers but we are stuck with them until at least 2012 and it's likely that for most of them, many more years.

What I came away with after Boehner's follies last week was that these folks are very serious and need to be taken seriously.

First, the Freshmen sincerely believe that they have a mandate to rein in Federal spending that is seriously out of control. Most Americans, my self included, certainly think Federal spending has gotten seriously out of control.

Second, they believe the best way to rein in out of control spending is for a Constitutional amendment to forbid future deficit spending. Those of us who have had the benefit of a decent college level class or two in macroeconomics can see the problem with such an amendment, but we deny at our own peril the appeal this has to ordinary Americans fond of saying things like, "I can't spend more than I make, so why should the government?"

And most importantly, these Freshmen are sincere. They really want to bring down Federal spending in a large way. Of course the are misguided on where the spending actually is, much less where it should be cut, and they are equally misguided on revenues. Nevertheless, they deserve our respect for the sincerity of their beliefs.

But our real problem is not these 87 new congressmen. Jared Bernstein today identified our real problem,
If your conclusion is that Democrats got rolled because the President is a lousy negotiator, I disagree. Not on his negotiating skills…as someone said in comments, I wouldn’t want him in the auto showroom with me when I’m bargaining for a better price. I disagree that better negotiating skills would have made a big difference. The problem goes much deeper.

....If too many Americans don’t believe in or understand what government does to help them, to offset recessions, to protect their security in retirement and in hard times, to maintain the infrastructure, to provide educational opportunities and health care decent enough to offset the disadvantages so many are born with…if those functions are unknown, underfunded, and/or carried out poorly, why should they care about how much this deal or the next one cuts?

Those of us who do care about the above will not defeat those who strive to get rid of it all by becoming better tacticians. We will only find success when a majority of Americans agrees with us that government is something worth fighting for.
The Freshman do not understand the important roll government plays in the modern economy of a first world country and neither do many Americans. This is where our elected officials, chief among them being President Obama come in. They must educate the public on the important roll many of our spending programs play in the lives we all enjoy. And this has been my biggest disappointment with Obama to date. His failure to use the bully pulpit to educate, weather it's health care reform (how many times did we hear him say 'we can't afford to do nothing'? Zero by my count).

One example is Medicare. Medicare will not go away because it is the only way elderly Americans can obtain health care. There will never be a private market to insure the elderly because it would be a lousy way to make money. So we all must work together to bend the cost curve down on Medicare before it consumes us.

A second example is the military. Empire is bankrupting our country.

So when do we have this adult conversation?

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