A Disgraceful Senate

2 comments

1,364. That is the number of days it has been since the United States Senate last passed a budget. One may think that with a national debt approaching $17 trillion (and set to rise without reform) and yearly deficits north of $1 trillion, the upper body of the U.S. legislator would show a little interest in making headway on these issues.

Unfortunately, it is run by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and a Democratic majority that is more interested in winning tactical political victories than saving our nation from fiscal ruin. Dozens of deficit reducing proposals have been passed in the House only to wither and die silently in the Senate. And that is the real scandal, not that the sometimes-bipartisan bills don’t get passed, but that they are usually not even allowed to be legitimately debated on the floor, amended or even voted on. Reid’s goals are simple: prevent any Democratic Senators from having to make difficult votes that may damage their chances of reelection or diverge from the Democratic Party line on taxes and entitlements, guard against the potentially disastrous optics of a tax or entitlement reform bill passing the Senate only to be vetoed by President Obama and, perhaps most importantly, allow Republicans to take all the political risk, thus making them look like a party of extreme radicals.

Rather than understanding the magnitude of what is facing the United States absent a course correction, and acting with the honor and responsibility befitting their office, the Democratic Senate majority is using our nations looming sovereign debt crisis as a political wedge to divide and marginalize the Republican Party.

Politically, the strategy has worked brilliantly (thanks in large part to a sympathetic media and an uninterested American public), but the nation is significantly worse off. The conduct of the Democratic Senators and their leader is a sad, yet revealing, commentary on how the United States of America came to be $17 trillion in the hole. Rather than making the politically difficult, but ultimately correct, decision to seriously examine and reform the drivers of our debt (entitlement programs), Democratic Senators are doing what is politically easy: to deny that there is a problem, demagogue all those who have the courage broach the subject, and pass the problem on for the next generation to solve.

Both parties are to blame for the current state of affairs but the Republican Party seems to have, for the most part, seen the light and is now actually proposing intellectually serious reform proposals. Democratic Senators have not been so reasonable. They continue to live in denial about the nation’s financial state of affairs and remain more interested in using the issue as a political weapon than actually addressing it. That is why they refuse to have any real debates, votes or amendments and why, in dereliction of one of their most basic duties, they refuse to even propose a budget. Their willful inaction is nothing short of cowardice; they are essentially selling the United States down the river for petty, self-interested political victories and that is a disgrace which should outrage all Americans.

2 comments on “A Disgraceful Senate”

  1. Andrew,

    How did previous bills proposed by the GOP suggest to curtail debt? What were the stated reasons by the Democratic majority for dismissing these bills?

    Our debt is currently huge but the interest rates are extremely low. In order to reduce the debt without disrupting the favorable interest rates, it behooves us to plan out long-term gradual methods for reducing debt. Drastic immediate measures have very real potential to disrupt our economy, or more seriously to damage international lenders’ confidence in our credit. You are right that by far the largest contributors to our debt are social insurance and also defense spending (although at least defense spending does not seem to be dramatically inflating). http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/what-is-driving-growth-in-government-spending/

    What do you believe are the best measures for reducing our deficit? In order for the GOP to get something passed, they need to placate democratic constituencies who depend on social insurance. I think it is possible to implement liberally minded policies that will can still accomplish our goal for reducing debt. If conservative fiscal hawks hope to do the right thing, to reduce our debt, I think they need to start thinking creatively from a liberal’s perspective. Let’s find some common ground! http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/01/a-plan-to-cut-social-security-and-medicare-that-even-liberals-can-love/266946/

    -Dan

    1. Dan,

      Thank you for responding! I’m glad you take this issue as seriously as I do.

      One example is the Ryan budget that did exactly what you proposed: it gradually brought expenditures in line with revenue (according to the CBO, the first balance budget under Ryan’s plan would be around 2040). Another example was the Bowles-Simpson budget, a bi-partisan commission set up by President Obama himself to tackle the debt /deficit problem. President Obama ignored the commission’s findings and the bill never got out of committee but it, along with the Ryan budget, represented a realistic (albeit rather timid) starting point for a legitimate conversation about debt reduction.
      Unfortunately, Sen. Reid dismisses out-of-hand any proposal that touches entitlements (which means he essentially dismisses any proposal that actually reduces the deficit in a meaningful way), all while proposing absolutely nothing of substance himself (see: Senate/budget). It is a very simple political strategy (and one that is working): make Republicans look like a bunch of extremists trying to take away Grandma’s healthcare, while the Senate Democrats heroically shield them from the right-wing onslaught. The “stated reasons” given by Sen. Reid and his colleges amounted to little more than distortions and straw man arguments. Anyone familiar with the pieces of legislation in question could see that but, then again, this was not exactly his target audience….

      You are right that interest rates are currently low (an unsuitable ~0%), but when they rise to historic norms it will explode our debt. When the day of fiscal reckoning comes (the day investors stop buying our bonds) we will have essentially four options: 1) Default: this will simply not happen, it would set off a global recession/depression and would irrevocably destroy this county’s ability to finance the government (probably for more than 100 years). 2) Raise interest rates so high (junk-bond status) that the amount of interest we would be forced to pay would reach a level that would render the principle unpayable (even if all the government spent money on was entitlements and interest on the debt). Of further note, many blame a restrictive monetary policy, among other things, for turning the sharp recession of 1929 into a decade-long depression. I think there is a very small chance this happens. 3) Make the necessary cuts. This is politically untenable. It would mean making deep, painful cuts to people already enrolled on the programs and who planned their retirement on the assumption these programs would be fully funded. You mentioned a concern you had about the effect abrupt cuts would have on a very fragile economy. If it did happen it would likely mean an instant recession or even a depression. But as I said, it won’t because it is a political none-starter. 4) Inflate the currency. Historically, this is what countries do when they cannot pay their bills. The Federal Reserve will simply “make up the difference”. This will likely result in severe -to-hyperinflation given just how much there is to make up. This would render all dollar denominated assists, from investments to lifesavings, essentially worthless. Worries that deficit reduction will set off a recession seem to ignore the much greater consequence of doing nothing (and the deeper recession that will follow). When the day of the debt crisis comes, there will be no warning and no time to prepare. Many economists think that, given our debt-GDP ratio and the velocity with which our debt is increasing (due to $1 trillion/year deficits), it will happen in the next 5-10 years. It may come a little later than that, but there will be only stagnate growth (at best) until then.
      The good news is that there are ways to reduce the debt and deficit that will help the economy, both through increased growth and efficiency and by eliminating a significant deterrence to investment (the looming debt crisis). I’d be happy to expand on them, but this post is starting to resemble a runaway train so I will save that for later if you are so interested. The bottom line is that every day of inaction on this issue brings us closer to the abyss and insures that whatever reforms we do make will be that much more painful. Ryan’s plan was attacked for affecting people 10 years away from retirement. Had we addressed this issue 20-30 years ago, that number could have been 25-30 years away, perhaps none at all. If we continue to live in denial and do nothing, that number will creep down to 7, 6, 5 years away until we get to the point where reform necessary affects people enrolled in entitlement programs. That is what I am trying to avoid. You may disagree with the idea’s put forth by House Republicans, I certainly don’t agree with everything that comes out of the House, but at least they are taking the issue seriously and at least they are trying, which is more than can be said for Senate Democrats.

      -Andrew

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