One of the most familiar comic strips in history has Peanuts character Lucy holding the football for gullible Charlie Brown. It has been repeated again and again. We all know what is going to happen. At the very last moment Lucy will pull the football out of the way and Charlie Brown, with his full force behind the kick, goes sprawling.
It’s all very funny. Why does Charlie keep falling for Lucy’s promise that she will never, ever do this again? Still we laugh. We can’t seem to get enough of it. Why? Because it mirrors real life.
We the people are Charlie Brown; Congress is Lucy; and our ballooning national debt is the football.
Last summer, Republicans in the House of Representatives, in a standoff with Barack Obama and Senate Democrats, failed to reach a compromise that would have put us on the road to fiscal responsibility in exchanged for raising the ceiling on our borrowing authority. Instead, they punted this football down the field. They raised the debt limit and then handed off the responsibility of coming up with $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years to 12 of their brethren, known as the Supercommittee
In the 2010 election, voters gave control of the House of Representatives (where all spending bills have to originate) to Republicans, along with a mandate to get our fiscal house in order. To their credit, the House adopted two plans that met Standard and Poor’s criteria for preserving our triple-A credit rating: the Budget Resolution, better known as the Ryan plan, and Cut, Cap and Balance. Both died in the Senate because Democratic leaders would not bring them up for a vote for fear they would pass. In August, faced with a government shutdown, the Republicans caved into the pressure.
Last spring, I warned House GOP leaders that the time to draw a line in the sand over our out-of-control spending is now, while the American people were fully engaged.
Polls showed that the majority of us were willing to accept a government shutdown, if necessary, to get our spending under control. Instead, these new GOP leaders fell into the very same trap the Gingrich-Armey GOP fell into in 1995 when they tried to force President Clinton to adopt a budget that would reach balance. They pushed the deadline into the holidays. As a result, Clinton, with the backing of the mainstream media, prevailed. The GOP took the blame for the eventual shutdowns that occurred, and the spending continued unchecked.
While it is difficult to get the public’s attention during the summer vacation season, it is impossible during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The Supercommittee has until Nov. 23 (the day before Thanksgiving) to hammer out a deal to cut at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Dumb. Congress is to vote on said agreement by Dec. 23 (the day before Christmas Eve). Dumber still.
If a deal is not reached, it will trigger an automatic sequestration of cuts, half of which are to come from domestic discretionary spending and half from defense.
But get this: These cuts are not scheduled to occur until 2013, after the 2012 election. If Democrats retain control of the Senate and the White House, they never will occur.
Meanwhile, it is business as usual. Federal spending continues to climb at an alarming rate, and there is no attempt to put the brakes on anymore. Just last week the Senate passed bills that increased spending by the Department of Agriculture by $6.4 billion, increased spending for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development by more that $2 billion and increased spending for the Departments of Commerce, Justice and State by more that $694 million. What restraint!
In 2012, if Republicans maintain control of the House, regain control of the Senate and win the White House, they will have a chance to right the ship of state. However, without a strong leader in the White House who is truly committed to balancing the budget now, not 10 years down the road, it is unlikely to happen.
In the meantime, our country will push up against the debt ceiling, again, early next year and it will be raised automatically. That’s right. Congress doesn’t have to approve a deal offered by the Supercommittee (assuming it can come up with one) for the debt ceiling to be raised again.
Yes, sometime in January or February, Congress will pull the football out from under us again, and taxpayers will hit the ground, dazed, wondering what happened.
That’s not funny!