Tag Archives: Congress

The Washington Circus

With only one short day left before the US would have crashed into its first-ever default, Congress and the White House have finally settled on a deal on the debt ceiling.

But while the “clear and present” danger of imminent default is out of the way (for now at least), the federal government’s antics surrounding the normally simple process of raising the debt ceiling have scarred the political system this country stands on.

Anyone who’s followed the deliberations in the US Capitol over the debt ceiling has probably not been overly impressed with their elected officials in the past few weeks. As members of Congress, the president, the Tea Party, and leaders from both sides have gone at one another tooth and nail over the debt ceiling issue facing America.

And finally, a deal has emerged between John Boehner and Harry Reid, the de facto leaders of the GOP and Democrats in Congress (respectively), a deal that the president is willing to sign. But this deal is still far from law. An ongoing debate in Washington still threatens to derail it, as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have objections. The deal has unsavory aspects to both conservatives and progressives: it cuts less spending than the former would like, and has almost none of the tax increases the latter was angling for. This means there’s still a decent chance this deal won’t go through.

But either way, this debate has already done serious damage to the federal government of the United States, and to the people of the country. Besides costing US taxpayers some $1.7 billion, this legislative monkey business has done real damage to the reputation of America’s lawmakers. Weeks of bickering and failed talks fulfill the stereotype that Congress is a lumbering legislative lump of inefficacy (alliteration always strengthens an argument, right?). Recent polls have shown that as many as 80% of Americans are dissatisfied with the actions of their representatives in DC.

So who’s to blame? Who is the ringleader in this circus?

Us.

One (and “one” includes myself) could certainly make a case that the Tea Party movement in the GOP ranks is largely responsible for the crap Congress has been trudging through. If it weren’t for their posturing and political machinations, the raising of the debt ceiling would have been perfectly normal. Like it always has been (the debt ceiling was raised 7 times during George W. Bush’s presidency). Tea Party members of the fractured Republican “coalition” in the House have made ridiculous pledges that pay no attention the real state of the country or its economy. In fact, some Tea Partiers have made it clear they would be willing to run the country into default, just to prove that “it wouldn’t be so bad.”

But as much as I would like to blame the Tea Party for everything happening in Washington, the truth of the matter is ultimately that the ringleaders of this circus were put into place… by us. Back in November of last year, the US people showed their impatience with Democratic leaders by electing a flood of GOP Congressmen and -women. These men and women, many affiliated with the Tea Party, promised to cut spending and “big government” if elected, which is exactly what they’re trying to do (albeit in a highly illogical fashion). Who voted them into office? The American people. And while most of us certainly would’ve liked to see a more mature electorate running our country’s finances, those who put the monkeys in this circus (So to speak. Maybe.) in the first place have to share some of the blame.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economy, Politics & Power

Should Everyone Vote?

This post was inspired by (and largely based on) an excellent Opinion piece on the CNN website by L. Z. Granderson. You can find it here.

In Western democracies, we’re accustomed to the idea that all people should vote, that all people should have a political voice and some measure of influence in how their federal, state, or local government is run, and in who is running those governments. And, in theory, this is a fantastic idea!

But how often do we really stop to think about it? The principle of voting rights seems to be sacrosanct in America and many other Western countries, and any challenge to it is usually treated with shock or outright horror. Most people see the right to vote as a sacred, God-given right, especially here in America; and I would agree, to a certain extent.

But reading the piece that I mentioned above gave me pause. True, all people have a right to participate in their political process, and people should exercise that right. But there’s a drawback and a danger to this as well. A disheartening number of people are painfully ignorant of their own political system. I don’t just mean the actual mechanisms of the system (how elections work, what Congress does, the significance of the Supreme Court), but also the policies and decisions under consideration by our government.

Allow me to throw a disclaimer in here. I am by no means equating ignorance to idiocy. I’m not calling into question the intelligence of the average American, but rather the average American’s commitment to being an involved and informed voter. People may be extremely passionate their pet politicians or policies, but so much of the time, they either limit their learning to one particular issue or simply don’t bother to be informed about any of the issues they may claim to care about so much. It’s easy to denounce Obamacare, talk about creating jobs, or express deep concern about the budget deficit. But if voters are not aware of the real costs, benefits, repercussions, and payoffs of such things, how can they be qualified to vote about them? If one does not really understand the principles of Obamacare, what it takes to create more jobs, or what the magnitude of our budget deficit is, how can they vote responsibly on these issues?

Think of it this way: If a person knows nothing about navigation or seamanship, would you ask them to help you sail the Atlantic? If a friend of yours doesn’t understand the first thing about chemistry and physics, would you invite him to run the LHC for a day? Note that the people in these examples are not stupid; they just haven’t been given the knowledge to do such things! So it is, I think, with voting. If people are not properly informed about the issues their country faces, how can they vote well? We spend a lot of time getting up in arms against our politicians, blaming them for our problems, and in some cases, they are at fault. But it seems that the bigger problem here lies with the people electing them. If we expect our politicians to fix our country, then we also have to be willing to do the work required to stay informed and updated about what needs to be fixed.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we form some erudite council of qualified voters (though this is almost what our republican political system is) to make our decisions for us, and disqualify all others from the political process. But what I am advocating is that we as voters have greater respect for the power of voting we’ve been given. While it may be a basic human right to have a fair government that operates under the consent of the governed, we are also under an obligation to treat that right with the respect it demands. And the most important way to do that is by getting informed.

So if the title of this post seems radical or provocative… it is. I’m still struggling with this question myself, but perhaps if people are not willing to do the legwork required to vote responsibly, they shouldn’t exercise that right at all. As Spiderman came to learn from his Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. (That’s the extent of my superhero comic knowledge.) I’m not discouraging anyone from voting; in fact, I wish more people would. Instead, I’m encouraging people to go beyond simple sound bite politics and find out what they’re really voting for before they pick up the pencil and cast their ballot.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics & Power

Cutting More Than a Budget

John Boehner, the new Speaker of the House, has been spearheading the cost-cutting in Washington.

As most Americans are well aware of, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives last November, and a large number of GOP candidates won other positions as well, causing a weakening of the Democrat majority in the Senate and ousting a number of Democratic governors across the country.

This turnover has changed the political landscape of Washington quite a bit over the past few weeks and months, but one of the key changes the new Republicans want to push through is a deep cut into Obama’s federal budget. After admitting that it had a number of possibly fatal shortcomings, the president laid the budget on the surgeon’s table for a figurative liposuction, and the new Republican representatives have been taking their job seriously.

Debates have been raging across the country about the budget, and many prominent Republicans, particularly a core of new (and sometimes Tea Party-affiliated) representatives have taken it upon themselves as a sacred duty to slice large sums out of of the federal budget. In fact, the House recently voted for $60 billion in cuts, which would slice spending out of almost all parts of government, affecting domestic programs, foreign aid, and even (surprisingly) military programs.

A recent and fascinating economics article in the New York Times showed how cutting the budget doesn’t even necessarily help the economy, but instead has potential to harm it. Boehner’s assertion that Obama’s addition of more federal jobs has cost the economy is not only falsely overblown (from 58,000 to 200,000 jobs added), but is fairly meaningless when one considers that state and local governments have severed 405,000 jobs recently. If you want a full picture of how austerity isn’t necessarily better than stimulus, read the article! I can’t put it as eloquently as David Leonhardt can.

My real disagreements with these deep cuts into the budget are more humanitarian in nature though. Many of the cuts being made into the budget are taking away funding for important programs such as Planned Parenthood, which is at risk of losing all funding, and a number of humanitarian community action agencies are losing funding too. To me, it seems obvious that the newly elected Republicans aren’t just trying to cut spending (in Washington and elsewhere), they’re actively seeking to advance their own political ideals under the guise of budget cutting. I see similar things happening in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, where newly elected Republican lawmakers are cutting into union rights while waving the banner of saving the states from a budget crisis.

While it may save the government some money to cut funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood, one can hardly say that the funding to this group and money given to community agencies across the country are colossal sums. So many lawmakers have become either misguided or over-political (big surprise there) in their choices of cuts. Instead of focusing more on areas where spending has become truly excessive and bloated (cough, defense, cough), most Republicans have chosen to hack away at social programs and programs intended to support those in greatest need. To add insult to injury, those in the top brackets of wealth in America are still getting breaks on their taxes.

Why is this happening? Here’s my theory: Besides cutting the budget down to size, a goal Republicans set ages ago, GOP lawmakers have jumped on an opportunity to advance their own partisan goals. By hacking away the funding for groups like Planned Parenthood or the community programs I mentioned (not to mention other programs in need), Republicans have leveled their cannons against programs that they, and more importantly, their constituents and monetary contributors, object to. This is more than an attempt to save money, it’s an effort to use this crisis as a way to advance the GOP cause and to secure the monetary and voter support that politicians so desperately crave, regardless of the toll it exacts on the human beings behind the numbers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics & Power