In a year and a half of writing weekly posts to this blog, I have usually been able to zero in on a topic fairly easily and just go straight to writing a day or two before my usual Wednesday post day. This week, though, there was such a tsunami of ripe pickings I had difficulty coming up with the “winner.” And the winner is … [drum roll, brass fanfare]: The Complete Demise Of Fiscally Responsible Thinking In America.
At least once or twice in earlier posts I’ve alluded to what has always seemed to me to be a clear difference in philosophy between Republicans and Democrats on fiscal matters. Generally, the mindset of Democrats has always seemed to be that if initiating or continuing a particular government program seems to be a good thing to do, then we should just make the decision to do it for that reason alone and let the cost considerations work themselves out in some separate process. Conversely, the mindset of Republicans has always seemed to be that the decision to initiate or continue any government program must necessarily be made in context with consideration of its cost and whether or not we can fund it under a fiscally responsible financing plan. This dichotomy has been at the root of many government “shutdowns” [see The Senate Shutdown for debunking of that term] when increases in the debt ceiling are required.
All Made Out Of Ticky Tacky; All Look Just The Same
One of my favorite songs of all time is Little Boxes, made popular by Pete Seeger in 1963. Although the song was a political satire about that era’s development of suburbia and associated conformist middle-class attitudes, only slight changes in the lyrics would make it describe the situation I’m writing about here. The “budget” [to use the term lightly] bill signed into law by President Trump in the wee hours of the morning of February 9 ended the latest [only hours-old] “shutdown” and was heralded by the leadership of both parties as a bipartisan compromise [“leadership” emphasized here because there was considerable disgruntlement in the Republican party’s “rank and file”]. Since even “leadership” wasn’t totally on board on the Democrat side, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Nancy Pelosi’s huge public tantrum over a DACA fix being left out of the negotiations [which has been nothing but a political ruse all along since trying to use a spending “crisis” to drive action on a totally unrelated ideological issue is a silly idea at the get-go]. I think Senator Jeff Flake [R-Arizona] expressed it best: “I love bipartisanship, as you know, but the problem is the only time we discover bipartisanship is when we spend more money.”
So here we are. This “budget” adds $300 billion to current recurring spending levels plus another $89 billion in one-time disaster relief for areas hit by hurricanes and fires. After meager improvements in our fiscal performance over the past few years, this will send our annual deficit once again over a trillion dollars — at a time when our national debt is already over $20 trillion! And the final nail in the coffin of fiscally responsible thinking in either party was refusal to include an amendment offered by Senator Rand Paul that would have kept Congress under strict budget caps and retained the debt limit in the package.
So trying to figure out which if either party is the more fiscally prudent is now almost impossible — because, to quote lyrics from Little Boxes, they’re all made out of Ticky Tacky, and they all look just the same.
A Glimmer Of Hope?
Although Senator Rand Paul’s continued aspirations to the Presidency are always at least a part of the motivation behind his periodic theatrics that keep his visibility high, I think he made some very insightful comments in his opposition to this latest “budget” bill. Here’s how it went down:
The Senate vote came only after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) refused to allow any action on the measure before the midnight funding deadline, triggering the second government shutdown in three weeks and an embarrassing outcome for the GOP-controlled Congress. … Paul blocked consideration of the measure because he didn’t get a vote on an amendment to keep Congress under strict budget caps, as well as stripping the debt limit from the package. GOP and Democratic leaders in the Senate feared if they let Paul proceed with his proposal, other senators would seek to amend the underlying deal as well. So they refused to allow a vote on Paul’s proposal. Paul countered by delaying Senate consideration of the bill as long as possible, a move that angered McConnell and other top Republicans. Paul didn’t seem to care. “There’s only so much I can do. This is a silly thing about it. I can keep them here until 3 a.m. I will make them listen to me,” Paul said on Fox News. With a shutdown only hours away, McConnell tried to set up a vote on the budget deal beginning at 6 p.m. But Paul objected. McConnell then pleaded with senators to accept a procedural vote and allow the Senate to move a deal that Trump backs. “The president of the United States supports the bill and is waiting to sign it into law. I understand my friend and colleague from Kentucky does not join the president in supporting the bill,” McConnell said. “It’s his right, of course, to vote against the bill. But I would argue that it’s time to vote.” Paul told POLITICO on Thursday evening that he would not consent to congressional leaders’ plan without a vote on his amendment. He ended up never getting that vote. Asked if he’s worried about singlehandedly inheriting the blame for a shutdown, Paul replied: “No. I think it’s an important enough thing that we should have a discussion over.” [Source: POLITICO Article]
I’m not a big fan of Rand Paul, but I think what he did and said during debate over this bill was “right on”. Maybe he and some of the Freedom Caucus / Tea Party types haven’t totally lost the battle for fiscal responsibility in America. Otherwise, we will stay on the current Unsustainable Fiscal Path.
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Charles M. Jones