Isolate and Remove the Toxins

I think the maxim that when both sides are equally ticked off after a negotiation, then something went right is fitting to the recent “fiscal cliff” situation. The far right wishes that now tax restoration occurred at all. The far left feels that Obama spent all his political capital by getting some tax restoration, and will have to play catch up next go-round. The next round is slated to be a debate about what spending will be cuts. And some people are saying we have only “kicked the can down the road,” and we are not addressing the real problem. Well, the real problem is not spending, it’s not entitlements, it’s not even creating jobs. The real problem is Congress. The real problem is getting congress to agree on what is the real problem.

Allow me to clarify some things.

The fiscal cliff is a myth, a phrase I bet Ben Bernanke is sorry he coined. The bill debated and recently was created (drafted by none other than Paul Ryan) as a sort of self disciplinary bill that would force congress to “do the right thing.” It was first aid to force a sick Congress to try and act in a healthy manner. That did not happen. The core reason for this kerfuffle was that Congress had to give itself permission to pay for bills it had itself racked up. It was a bill raise the debt limit. For the left, this process should be a simple matter of a vote, as has been done many times before, under conservative and liberal administrations. But the left and center are getting tired of raising the limit because it keeps going up. They cry that something must change in how we spend. So they tie the budget and taxes – which are about planning the future – to authorizing raising the debt ceiling – which is about the past.

That is one damn good example of why we need more bills, each smaller.

Those two issues are legitimate but they really are separate issues. Planning taxes and how the government should spend money are nearly the entirety of what our government should be doing. It is madness to do it at the eleventh hour. It is a sign of a very sick congress. It’s not like congress going to the emergency room for a diabetes related manner; it is more like congress writing itself a bad prescription while in a diabetic coma, and driving to fill it comatose. Congress should be debating taxes and spending while it is alert and able to consider the future. Say, all the time.

One of the many troubles with the recent bill, beyond Hurricane Sandy relief (which legitimately pissed off both governors off), beyond the hundreds of other things pundits say the should have done, but because there were several earmarks (pork!) that never should have been in there. A NASCAR track, tax breaks for movie makers, and bio-fuels. Wind power tax breaks is something I happen to agree with, but should be debated and passed in another time. Those sneaky clandestine politicians!

Another good example of why we need more bills, each smaller.

Gun control did not belong it the fiscal cliff bill either, but that doesn’t excuse Congress from taking action. There is no sensible public disagreement with the proposal that huge ammunition magazines, throwing sensible rules out the window for gun shows, and guns that look like machine guns all should be the law of the land. The “change the subject” ploy of the NRA, wherein they raise the issue of school security, and restricting crazy and evil people’s gun access is also legitimate, but also another issue for another time.

Another good example of why we need more bills, each smaller.

What got our country into this fiscal mess? Two unfunded wars of choice, horrible regulation of the financial sector, burgeoning medical costs, irresponsible tax cuts, and the fiscal policies that led to corrupt behavior and a financial bubble. JP, you and I agree that entitlements did not cause the Great Recession. So entitlement reforms should not be tied to the debt ceiling bill. But they do contribute to fears that government spending needs reform. Public perception of the market has hue influence on the stock market (stocks are not money, they are bets on the future of of business, which is by nature, speculation).

Another good example of why we need more bills, each smaller.

Should we reform entitlements? Yes, absolutely. Should we throw out entitlements completely? Of course not. Social security – sorry to say, right wing – is one of the most effective things Congress has ever done to alleviate poverty. By most measures, social security is a form of socialism and government intrusion. Tough! Get over it! Entitlement reform is important work. Means testing? Legitimate issue. Same thing goes for end of life care, cleaning up the state-by-state craziness of medicare reimbursement efforts toward weeding out fraud, and forty other issues. Should entitlement reform be part of the next fiscal cliff bill? No!

Another good example of why we need more bills, each smaller.

It is fundamentally a good thing when Congress makes deals that involve trades. That is what compromise is about. The members of Congress that do this are to be commended, and I am not against deal making. In fact we need more of it! But not in a high pressure situation. Any member of Congress who brags about sticking to their principles rather than offering a solution to a problem is working contrary to the reason they were elected. If all you can do is say NO, then you are part of the problem. Go ahead and have your principles, but “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” In fact, go home. Small bills encourage transparency in government. They let the public know and help judge what is a worthwhile public project and what is pork. Small bills are a sign of trust within the Congress, because deals can be struck, but they force legislators to publicly keep the promises they make in negotiations.

We the voters and regular people who should be the actual lobbyists should advocate for exactly that kind of performance Congress and the Executive branch should lead in the same manner. I am referring to the following highly principled sticks in the mud: The NRA, the Tea Party, the very pro-Israel lobby, the pro lifers, the single-issue environmentalists, and so forth. Single issue advocates need to be recognized for what they are; the public expects Congress to have the big picture in mind. This concept is fundamental to a representative democracy; it should be obvious, but it becoming fuzzy in our time. Filibuster reform is integral to the reform of congress, and needs to be high on the priority list.

Another good example of why we need more bills, each smaller.

JP, in a recent email to me regarding health care costs and the role of the media, you said, “no wonder the public is confused…”. I think the public is not as confused as you say. It is less confused than narrow minded. Our media environment allows people to hear what they want, and to have their emotions assuaged by reinforcing their prejudiced viewpoint. Subjectively, nobody is confused; only objectively they are. We lump issues for emotional – gut – reasons. Smaller bills allow Congress to show the world what it DOES agree on. Smaller bills restore public confidence in Congress as a body that is capable of doing its job.

Another good example of why we need more bills, each smaller.

Special interests are like viruses. They seek to not only poison things and set up shop to grow, they want to become real living things, even normal organisms; they want to be part of the mainstream. That is what is wrong with earmarks; they are secretly embedded like viruses. Congress must contain them. The Tea Party needs to be recognized as poison in the well, so does the NRA and the other Bad Guys. We need to contain the toxins. We need to create a culture that works toward wellness. The Tea Party has tried to sell their plan as wellness, which is the same thing a virus tries to do. Once these radicals are legitimately contained and recognized, culture will change. This is a small step in the right direction. Sometimes the culture changes, and the law catches up with it.

Another good example of why we need more bills, each smaller.

The opposite process is happening in the food safety industry right now. The industry is asking for tougher regulation as a means to healthier food. They ask for it because across-the-board reform keeps the economic market playing field even, for the sake of public health. Reform in laws comes first, the culture then catches up. That is how we should approach gun laws, while keeping the 2nd amendment in mind.

Government reform must begin with isolating the toxins. Speaker Boehner should quit pandering to the Tea Party, and let their crazy belligerence be exposed. Then we can change the culture that allowed the unhealthy situations in the first place. Healthy behavior in Congress is manifest when they deliberate on good lawmaking, and being objective and not confused.

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About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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One Response to Isolate and Remove the Toxins

  1. JP says:

    Overall a nice analysis. I agree it would be good to have smaller bills, and that would be such a radical change to how congress works I have less hope for that than you have that we can do something about climate change. Still, gotta dream, right?
    And one point about the debt ceiling; the Republicans have always raised it without question and as a matter of course when a Republican is in the White House, and have only complained or raised concerns about spending and raising the debt ceiling when a Democrat is in the White House. It’s about politics more than anything. Most countries don’t have a debt ceiling as we do; they just pay their bills when they’ve spent money.

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