Trying to keep up with Washington, D.C., politics is virtually impossible. You can read as much as you want, but it doesn’t help understand the complexities of our federal government.
Take the national debt, for example. We know it’s getting awfully close to $15 trillion and that something ought to be done before the country has to declare bankruptcy.
Unfortunately, we have a Democratic president and U.S. Senate and a Republican U.S. House of Representatives. Getting them to agree on anything is almost a waste of time.
A government shutdown was averted when President Barack Obama and Republicans came to terms on money needed to get through this fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. However, even that is reportedly a case of juggling the numbers.
The Associated Press reported a week ago the deal was supposed to cut $38 billion but only reduced the budget by $350 million. And it may have ended up being a budget that is actually $3.3 billion higher than current levels.
Whose budget is best?
Before we could digest those numbers, the debate began on whose 2012 federal budget offers the best hope for the American people.
House Republicans came up with a $3.5 trillion budget that is supposed to trim $5.8 billion in spending over the next 10 years. Obama has a competing plan that he says will cut the federal deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years.
Medicare and Medicaid, health care programs for all Americans, would change considerably under the Republican proposal.
The Medicare program would change from a government plan to one in which senior citizens would get subsidies from the federal government to help them buy private health care insurance. Citizens 55 and older would stay in the current system.
Medicaid that is operated for lowincome Americans would become a state-administered plan financed with block grants from the federal government.
It didn’t take Democrats long to jump on those proposals with both feet.
The president said the GOP plan would result in health care coverage being slashed for 50 million Americans. The AP reported that he mentioned grandparents needing nursing home care, children with autism and kids “with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves.”
Republicans realized there would be controversy, but where else do you go when 80 percent of the federal budget is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense spending? Those costs will climb even higher as millions of baby boomers join the retirement ranks.
Obama likes his plan better. He said his saves money by eliminating health care fraud, cutting defense spending and raising taxes on the wealthy.
Surveys show Americans have no problem with taxing the wealthy, but they do have concerns about messing with their government health care plans.
Republicans argue that reducing taxes on the wealthy helps create jobs. However, it’s a tough sell considering how long they have enjoyed those cuts and how high the unemployment rate has been in this country.
The recent recession caused by financial greed didn’t help matters, either.
The House vote on the Republican budget plan got zero Democratic votes, and it isn’t likely to get through a Senate controlled by Democrats. If it did, a presidential veto is almost guaranteed.
Liberal writers said Obama got it right when he said he wouldn’t sacrifice worthwhile government programs just so the wealthy could get their tax cuts.
Conservative columnists call Ryan’s budget a good place to start talking about compromise and insist nothing gets done without serious budget cuts.
Neither side appears ready to give any ground, and there is another major problem staring them in the face. It’s the need to raise the $14.3 trillion borrowing cap by May 16.
“… That upper limit on borrowing has been increased with little fanfare 10 times in the past decade,” The AP reported. ‘But House Republicans, under heavy tea party pressure, now are threatening to vote no unless the debt limit increase also includes further and deep spending cuts.”
Can deal be struck?
The Standard and Poor’s rating service this week warned of serious financial consequences if the ceiling isn’t raised. Maybe so, but it didn’t phase U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House.
Cantor said the GOP wouldn’t vote to raise the cap unless the White House agrees to “serious reforms that immediately reduce federal spending and to end the culture of debt in Washington.”
Compromise is the only hope for solutions to this monumental financial mess, but observers aren’t confident it will happen. Neither side wants to give in, hoping the 2012 presidential and congressional elections will give it the advantage it needs to call all the shots.
Isn’t it a sad state of affairs when the nation’s credit future is jeopardized for political gain?
The country’s financial dilemmas are too complex for average Americans to understand. They elect a president and members of Congress to handle those issues for them, but most of those officials refuse to see beyond the next election.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@american press.com.