Government Gives Up on Basic Tasks

December 6th, 2011 at 12:00 am | 39 Comments |

| Print

All you really need to know about the state of Washington, D.C. are three facts:

A–a majority of Republicans in the Senate defeated a bill to extend the payroll tax holiday that was introduced by their own Senate Minority Leader last week;

B–President Obama has decided that the only real legislative item he wants passed is that very payroll tax holiday–not deficit reduction, not extension of unemployment benefits, not ending the expansion of the Alternative Minimum Tax into the middle class, not preventing a 27 per cent overnight reduction in payments to Medicare providers;

C–Congressional Democrats and Republicans, as well as the White House, still have not approved the basic appropriations bills necessary tokeep the government operating.

To extend what should be extended will cost about $200 billion plus. The President doesn’t want to run the risk as a big taxer, so he is watching as Congress wrangles, something that has been thematic about this President–talk and watch.

Congress fears both extending the items that a weak economy needs and not extending them.

This confusion puts the rotten cherry on top of the melted ice cream sundae that has been this session of Congress.

Look back.

The President presents a Fiscal Year 2012 budget plan that is based on false economics, spinkled with promises that he cannot fulfill, and that continues the trillion dollar deficits that will thrust the nation toward the fiscal cliff. Congress, again, cannot pass its basic budget resolution for FY12.

The Congress and the President decide, after the normal panic attacks by commentators, to simply extend FY11 spending into FY12 for most programs.

Fearing that America’s voters will begin to decry all of Washington, Obama establishes his own debt commission to make recommendations on how to slow growth to well over 100 per cent of Gross Domestic Product of sovereign debt.

A majority of that commission passes a series of recommendations that, if endorsed by the President and passed by Congress, would make significant improvement in the debt picture.

But, the President turns aside the majority and refuses to endorse his own commission’s initiatives.

The President then dispatches Vice President Joe Biden to create a small bi-partisan group to see if that group can agree on any debt plan.

It can’t. Re-enter Congress.

Having not dispatched last year’s work–and only five months behind on that chore–the policymakers for our federal government decide to play chicken with the national debt. At the last moment, of course, all sides agree to do something original–pass the debt ceiling increase and establish a committee to look at how to slow debt increases.

It is now late August, and the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (JSC) begins its work. Its job is simple–find $1.2 trillion in savings from the estimated $14 trillion in new debt that the federal government will accumulate in the next decade.

The President travels throughout the nation, basically ignoring the debt problem. Over the very weekend the JSC is supposed to issue its package, the President returns from his trip to Bali and other points far away from the nation’s capital.

The JSC concedes abject failure.

At this point, the story turns farcical.

“Don’t worry,” conservatives say. “Automatic cuts will go into effect in January of 2013 and that will save $1.2 trillion despite the JSC failure.”

Within less than a month, conservatives say, “Oh, Mr. President, help us get rid of those automatic cuts.” House Speaker John Boehner makes a public appeal to Obama to vitiate the sequester of 2013.

Obama politely says, in so many words, “Hey, this is what you guys said you wanted. I certainly won’t help you undo your own idea.”

Meanwhile, Congress continues to flounder as it fails, once again, to agree on the FY12 appropriaitons bill to fund government operations.

We have now come, chronologically, full circle.

We have also descended into a governing vicious circle, where, disdain, anger and fear dominate the Executive and Legislative Branches.

For three years, Congress and the President have lived in different realms. Obama clearly has little use for his former colleagues in Congress. Indeed, he is making one of his campaign themes opposition to the “do-nothing Congress.” The fact that he doesn’t differentiate between his own party members in Congress and the GOP stalwarts infuriates his fellow Democrats.

Congress believes that Obama makes good speeches, delivers fanciful budgets, and then heads out of town when the rough work becomes necessary.

Both sides are right.

So now, American sees Washington, D.C., divided almost into tribes. Democratic Senators who want to do something, especially something positive that may help them retain control of the Upper Body next November. Democratic House members who just sit back and watch and hope that Republicans will continue to wander around and confront lower and lower approval ratings. Republican House members, split among those who know what a legislature is supposed to do and those who oppose the very notion of a legislature. And, Republican Senators, also split, between those bound by theological opposition to taxes on billionaires and those who would like to at least give an appearance of governing.

It is this kind of tribal behavior, encouraged by the two party’s caucuses in the House and Senate, and the indifference of the President, that now threaten the nation.

Remember that when you hear Congressmen or the President criticize the European Union or the tribal organization of ancient cultures like those in Afghanistan? Obama and Congress are leading us into just into the same archaic and anarchic state.

Wonder what the Founding Fathers would think?

Recent Posts by Steve Bell

39 Comments so far ↓

  • Ray_Harwick

    Unserious partisan blather. Thanks for playing, Mr. Bell. You’re no David Frum.

  • Graychin

    Irrational rant. I heard more sensible right-wing craziness than this at Thanksgiving dinner.

  • Rabiner

    Sounds more like Congress is impotent than a Presidential leadership issue. Republicans don’t know what they want except its whatever the President doesn’t want.

    • LauraNo

      I figure they’re pretty incensed when the worst they can think to say of the president is that he travels on official presidential business to foreign lands. The chutzpah! Then they have to find some way to hide their disappointment that he continues to be pretty good at politics, how dare he not save the republicans from their own nonsense?

  • dugfromthearth

    The sad thing is that there are people who believe things like this article.

    Newt says he will never give a speech again without mentioning Monica Lewinsky, then later complains that the media was obsessed with Monica Lewinsky and he could not get them to talk about anything else.

    The Republicans say they will compromise on nothing and will oppose anything Obama supports even if they once supported or even proposed them, and then they complain that Obama is not leading and not proposing policies they can support.

    And somehow there are people either so foolish, so partisan, or so ignorant that they simply believe the lie.

  • Gorth B. Golly

    Wasn’t it that radio host named El Rushbo, the one that speaks for all that is conservative and Republican, the giver of all that is beholden to be true by those who prefer not to think but rather to savoir the improbable, that once said that he wished this Congress would fail and that they would all be one term representatives. Or was he talking about the president? Anyway it was something like that. Well like they say, you get what you ask for. And boy what a whopper of a dud this is turning into.

  • balconesfault

    And, Republican Senators, also split, between those bound by theological opposition to taxes on billionaires and those who would like to at least give an appearance of governing.

    I don’t see the split.

    Which Republicans Senators are actually willing to raise taxes on the class of Americans who can afford a tax increase without significant reductions in their standards of living?

    • valkayec

      And today, we have Jon Kyle saying he will only support extensions of the payroll tax decrease and unemployment benefits if the Bush tax cuts are extended again. Yep, Kyle would add another trillion dollars to the deficit in trade for helping working families and unemployed workers. Where is the basic morality of these people?

      • balconesfault

        Their basic morality tells them that the wealthiest 1% of Americans, whose control of the total national wealth has more than doubled in recent decades, should be able to control more. We are not yet a feudal society, after all.

  • valkayec

    Mr. Bell, you’ve provided a reasonable synopsis of the last year, but in fact most of the problems we’re seeing are a result of GOP obstructionism and Obama Derangement Syndrome (ODS).

    A couple of weeks ago a group of very wealthy people told Congress to raise their taxes because they believed it was necessary for the sake of the nation. Last week, serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and multi-millionaire Nick Hanauer wrote in Bloomberg that taxes on the wealthy did need to be increased.

    “It is unquestionably true that without entrepreneurs and investors, you can’t have a dynamic and growing capitalist economy. But it’s equally true that without consumers, you can’t have entrepreneurs and investors. And the more we have happy customers with lots of disposable income, the better our businesses will do.

    That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When the American middle class defends a tax system in which the lion’s share of benefits accrues to the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

    And that’s what has been happening in the U.S. for the last 30 years.

    Since 1980, the share of the nation’s income for fat cats like me in the top 0.1 percent has increased a shocking 400 percent, while the share for the bottom 50 percent of Americans has declined 33 percent. At the same time, effective tax rates on the superwealthy fell to 16.6 percent in 2007, from 42 percent at the peak of U.S. productivity in the early 1960s, and about 30 percent during the expansion of the 1990s. In my case, that means that this year, I paid an 11 percent rate on an eight-figure income.

    One reason this policy is so wrong-headed is that there can never be enough superrich Americans to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the average American, but we don’t buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff.”

    This week, Morgan Stanley Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat called for increasing taxes on the wealthy. On Saturday at the Economist’s World in 2012 summit, she said that the government needs to raise taxes on the rich to address its budget deficit.

    “The wealthiest can afford to pay more in taxes. That’s a part of the deal. That makes sense. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t agree with that,” Porat said. “The wealth disparity between the lowest and the highest continues to expand, and that’s inappropriate.”

    “We cannot cut our way to greatness,” she added.”

    Yet, the GOP refuses to listen even to the most well educated and knowledgeable because they have tied themselves to Norquist and an ideology that they refuse to admit has been a failure. As a result, they’ve chosen to blame Obama and the Democrats rather than shifting gears to formulate a new economic strategy based on new realities.

    I hope that one day you’ll join the growing choir of voices exclaiming the economic and moral deficit within the GOP and demand better from them for the sake of the nation rather than just their dual goals of increasing the wealth of the nation’s most wealthy (themselves included) and attaining permanent power.

    • Ray_Harwick

      Mr. Bell gets paid not to think. Like David Frum has pointed out of others of Bell’s ilk, they don’t get paid to think. They just get paid to repeat.

      Thank you, Valkayec. You said it perfectly and the best thing that can happen to Bell is the coming tsunami in the general election that wipe that ignorant smirk off of Bell’s face and put his out of a job with the smell of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell so thick on him he’ll be lucky to get work at one of those coveted union janitor jobs Newt is trying to replace with 7 year-old children.

  • Ogemaniac

    The government can’t get anything done because we have given a minority absolute veto power. Then we have set up an electoral system such that it only takes about 30% of voters to put nihilists in power. Then they have done everything they can to keep voter turnout low, such that it really only takes 15% of potential voters.

    Thus has the asylum has been taken over by the insane.

    We need to admit that our system is broken and that it needs to be switched to a parliamentary system, where the party(s) in charge can actually do something.

  • Fart Carbuncle

    All the more reason to elect a GOP WH and Senate next year to have at least two years of repealing and ramming before we get into another gridlock period.

    • baw1064

      Nope. 41 votes in the Senate constitutes a veto for pretty much anything at all. Neither party is going to have 60 seats in the foreseeable future.

    • LFC

      Why? Because it worked out sooooooo well with George W. and a GOP controlled Congress?

      • Fart Carbuncle

        Are you forgetting the first two years of Obama and the massive welfare spendathon he went on?

  • SteveThompson

    Here is an article showing how the United States, holder of over $15 trillion in debt, is unlikely to ever achieve fiscal balance:

    Should interest rates rise to the average level of the past decade, interest on the debt would reach $700 billion, consuming 70 percent of individual income tax revenue and all but negate the impact of Budget Control Act spending cuts.

    No wonder they are giving up – they know the truth.

    • TJ Parker

      If the markets believed this, the value of our debt would be a fraction of what it is now. Now, however, it is at historic highs.

      • sweatyb

        but but but! did you read the random blogspot article? the United States is in dire fiscal peril! we are dooooooooooomed!

        The markets are wrong! And those very same bond markets that are so completely wrong will soon come to their senses and destroy the global financial system.

        Which is why everyone should buy gold. Preferably from the 800 number you saw on television.

  • armstp


    The only thing that you need to know is that all of the political gridlock is driven by one party – The Republicans.

    Their unwillingness to compromise on anything, particularly on tax increases has completely gummed up government, which is exactly what the Republicans want to do.

    The Republicans have no desire for government to work or to cut any deals. This has been the Memo for more than two years now. They now clearly want to do everything they can to torpedo the economy ahead of the 2012 elections.

    By they way, if Congress does absolutely nothing the deficit problem, which is not even a problem that should be addressed now, will correct itself. The combination of letting the Bush tax cuts expire, the automatic cuts that will occur with no agreement and the improving economy will get the country back to a normalized and managable budget deficit. That is at least what the CBO says. The CBO also say that with growth and the elimination of the Bush tax cuts the U.S.’s total debt to GDP will fall to between 60-70% of GDP over the next decade. The best course of action is therefore to do absolutely nothing, as the deficit reduction tools have already been put in place.

    By the way Steve, you comment:

    “But, the President turns aside the majority and refuses to endorse his own commission’s initiatives.”

    is a complete lie.

    Obama’s “grand bargain”, which he put on the table during the debt ceiling negotation and which is still on the table is largely based on the Simpson-Bowles Commission plan. The central theme of Simpson-Bowles is a comprehensive and balanced plan that includes tax increases. It is 100% entirely the Republicans, who by refusing to give on taxes, are completely rejecting the Simpson-Bowles plan, not the President. The President has proposed serious spending cuts, which includes cuts to Medicare and Social Security. It is Obama who says everything is on the table and not the Republicans who say that.

    Your post is a complete false equivalency and the polls increasingly say that the public knows it. The public knows that it is the Republicans that fail to negotiate in good faith. The Republicans have no desire for a deal and no desire to compromise. The Republican’s Norquist no-tax-pledge is killing them and the country.

  • TJ Parker

    Who is serious about governing?

    1. What fraction of the legislation passed by the House of Representatives can get 51 votes in the Senate? The percentage doesn’t even break out of the single digits.

    2. What fraction of legislation voted on in the Senate is not filibustered by the Republican minority? Similar.

  • Oldskool

    When Rs proudly insist that their main objective is to defeat the president as opposed to governing, what did you expect? That they would agree to do things that would resemble a victory for him? How naive can you get.

  • ottovbvs

    The Republicans are in deep doo doo over this issue and it seems to have brought on a severe case of Ramblingitis in Bell where he seeks to spread blame equally for this situation which is entirely the product of Republican obstruction. Great effort at a smokescreen Mr Bell but it’s not going to convince anyone.

  • nhthinker

  • more5600

    Besides all the other misinformation in the piece, I’d like to make one point:

    The Simpson-Bowles Commission consisted of 18 members and needed a super-majority voting in favor of the Commissions report in order for it to make a recommendation to the President. They did not get the 14 votes needed and therefore the report was not approved. There are no Simpson-Bowles recommendations, only a report that failed to get sufficient support to go to the President.

    • armstp

      Good point!

      4 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted against it. Simpson-Bowles conclusions never received widespread Democratic support.

      Therefore there is no reason to expect Obama to entirely agree to it. However, Obama certainly agreed with most of it, particularly the overall idea that it had to be balanced and contain both spending cuts and increased tax revenue. The Republicans are much more against Simpson-Bowles because they do not believe any deficit deal should be balanced, as they do not include half the equation: taxes.

  • Houndentenor

    Nothing will get done before the 2012 election. All the players are convinced that voters will blame the other party. Compromise is now a dirty word in the GOP, so there’s going to be no deals. They might as well all go home and do something constructive with the next 11 months because nothing productive is going to come out of Congress.

  • LFC

    Obama proposed a plan that looked much like Simpson-Bowles except that it leaned a bit more to the right. The GOP rallied around Paul Ryan’s plan that was based on Fantasyland numbers for future assumptions that even Heritage ran away from (after they supplied them) and was scored by the CBO as increasing the deficit.

    So who are the fiscal conservatives? It’s now the Dems, and has been since at least when Clinton became President.

  • dante

    With regards to Obama running against a “do nothing” Congress, the Republicans have stated time and again that they would rather the government just “do nothing” than act on Obama’s proposals. I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch for Obama to use their quotes and phrases against them, and ask that he get sent back to the Oval Office with a congress that will actually *do something* as opposed to just trying to block everything.

    That combined with the plummeting approval numbers for the freshmen Tea Party might actually give Obama a “mandate” for the second term…

  • nhthinker

    “Wonder what the Founding Fathers would think?”

    The Founding Fathers would think that Barack Obama did not qualify as a natural-born citizen as Article II required and that the Federal government had grown beyond all Constitution power that they limited it to.

    If they had the foresight to peek into the current reality, then probably all of them would have decided not to form the union of States.

    • TerryF98

      The birther strikes again. And misses. Good for a laugh though. Some people never find reality with both hands.

    • valkayec

      Good grief! According to your thinking, most of our founding generation would have been ineligible to become president. Ever think about that? Of course not cause hatred of our President, for whatever reasons, drives your thinking.

      If you’re really interested in how the founding generations thought about this nation, its challenges, and its future, you might try reading a really good book on the subject: Ratification, The People Debate the Constitution, 1787 – 1788, by Pauline Maier, author of American Scripture. Professor Maier is one of the foremost authorities on early America, the Revolution, and the Constitution.

      Then when you’ve finished that book you might try reading 16th through 18th Century British and French histories as well as the early British Anglo-Saxon & Danish political system and the Magna Carta. Once you’ve completed all that studying, you might have some idea from where our political thinking and system derived and why Britain, for all its religio-political warring in the 17th Century, was still far more stable than than France during the 17th and 18th Centuries.

      Should I give you a couple of hints as to why Britain did not endure the dramatic, violent political upheaval that occurred in France? Perhaps not. You should read and study for yourself, then maybe – just maybe – you’ll come to understand what makes for a stable government and country.

      It’s obvious you need the education so I encourage you to do some reading and studying so you can better understand how our political thinking and system evolved and why it must be protected from oligarchs and political cronies. Even German conservative Otto von Bismark recognized that if average people were being hurt economically in favor of the wealthiest they would revolt.

      America is heading towards a revolution much as in the early 20th Century when Republican TR was elected. Fortunately, TR had the foresight to understand that if capitalism was to be saved, changes had to occur to bring the system back into alignment again with the historic democratic principles of old Britain. (That’s not to say that old Britain had everything right, but they did adhere to a system of national popular vote, regardless of how much it had been abrogated during the era of corporatism.) His cousin, FDR, was just as conservative in the traditional sense but recognized that again for capitalism to work in his century, it had to change again and the government had to take a larger role in an increasingly interconnected world to protect the increasing nature of the US standing in the world and to protect capitalism itself from those who sought to overthrow it – so he compromised and helped create solutions that afflicted American society, creating a better society today than existed in 1900.

      If you love capitalism, you must agree with TR on labor rights for economic/social and political stability; on trust busting (Anti-Trust Act) to prevent one company from dominating an industrial sector thereby preventing competition; on increased rules and regulations governing workplace conditions; and on saving portions for this great nation’s great natural beauty as the heritage and birth right for all generations to come.

      If you love capitalism and the necessity of political stability, you must agree with FDR that workers need protections from market vagaries a la the many recessions and depressions that effect the very livelihoods of American families. If we had gone into this recession lacking the very benefits created during the FDR Admin., the economic harm and political instability would have equaled or exceeded what existed in the 1930s when families lived closer together and communities were closer together…and yet, look at the statistics and data from the ’30s. It was significantly far less an enjoyable time for average American families to live through economic hardship than now.

      If you love our nation and our liberties, you need to learn from where and why they derived and how our nation has evolved to meet the challenges of a changing world. Failing to do so exhibits a fundamental lack of historic understanding and a mind closed to options and growth.

      By your adherence to a Republican mantra that is devoid of its most famous heritage, you do yourself and our country no favors.

      • nhthinker

        You have no idea what you are talking about.
        There is nothing from the time of the Founding Fathers that the Natural-Born Citizen clause would apply to child that is the son of a British subject. All persons arguing for Obama as a natural-born citizen because of the “native born” citizen clause of the 14th Amendment.
        What I’ve read and studied about American history is significant. Elsewhere on Frumforum, I’ve identified that Senator Sherman from Ohio created one of the most important pieces of legislation for the free market system.

        The Federal government has grown to a point of influence that it has created a half trillion dollars per year in trade deficit and still the general thought is Americans are not consuming enough. Financial gluttony is now the law of the Fed.

        FDR packed the Supreme Court in “superconstituional” ways. Radical Republicans in the aftermath of the Civil war also did some very “superconstitional” moves that the Founding Fathers would think was not constitutional.

        The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written in a manner that allowed States to each have their own sanctioned Religion of the State.
        The reinterpretation of the Bill of Rights to supercede States rights would be an anathema to the Founding Fathers as to what they were signing up for. The expectation was that the Amendment process would be used to increase or decrease the Federal powers, not by reinterpretation of the Constitution to push more power to the Feds.

        The idea was that a supermajority of the representatives of the people at the Federal and the State level was needed to change the powers ceded from the people and the states and toward the Feds. Liberals seem to overlook this clear fact. Liberals point to the amendment process as too slow- but supermajorities actually create a acceptable mandate as opposed to an overbearing slight majority mob that seeks to ignore the rights of the people and the States in the name of their fads for social engineering.

        • valkayec

          Great Gods! What a bunch of hooey! You really do need to go back to school.

        • nhthinker

          “Good grief! According to your thinking, most of our founding generation would have been ineligible to become president.”

          I guess you have never read the constitution, or at least never comprehended it in order to make such a statement.

          It is clearly you that need to READ and comprehend the written word instead of swallowing all the liberal garbage.

          Simply read Article II of the U.S. Constitution and let us know if you can recognize how blatantly false your assertion is.

  • JohnMcC

    From ‘The Fiscal Times’ of 8/5/11:

    The last time the U.S. public debt exceeded the economy was when it reached unprecedented heights during World War II and peaked at almost 109% of GDP in 1946. It eventually fell to 31.5% in 1981 and averaged 37% of GDP from 1960 to 2000. But now the debt is growing faster than the economy, said Steve Bell, senior director of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

    Hummm….. Wonder what Mr Bell thinks happened in 2000 to cause the U.S. Gov’t to be so deeply in debt. Pondering, pondering, pondering…..

  • pdxcitizen

    This is tripe.

    Your summary simply misrepresents the facts about how the debt-related events of the past 12 months unfolded.

    If you remember, not single Republican House member on the Simpson-Bowles Commission voted to approve the Commissions’s final report.

    In the Spring, President Obama embraced the “Gang of Six’s” proposal (really only 5, since Repub. Tom Coburn dropped out).

    Obama’s embrace caused Republicans to RUN, not walk away, from that proposal.

    Then, Rep. Boehner walked away from the “Grand Bargain” b/c his caucus could not even accept a deal comprised of 80% entitlement cuts and only 20% tax increases, most of which were through the closing of loopholes.

    This led to the debt ceiling debacle in August, when Republicans turned a meaningless administrative vote on the debt ceiling, one taken by Congress’ of both parties dozens of time in the recent decades, into a purely self inflicted injury to USA’s credit rating.

    Yes, President Obama is now playing politics with these issues, but only because he finally realized that Republicans have not been acting in good faith and seek primarily to drag him into the mud of failure so he loses his reelection this Fall.

    • valkayec

      yep. You got that right. Now, the problem is how to convince low information voters prior to the next election since the media has done such a horribly bad job of their job. It’s obvious from polls that everyone wants to blame Obama for the failure of Congress to do its job as a result of GOP congressional stonewalling and disinformation. So, how should the truth be brought out? What should ordinary people do?