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Yet both leaders indicated such reports are misleading. Senate leader Reid claimed the “numbers are basically there…the only thing holding up an agreement is ideology…” while Mr. Boehner contended that there “is no agreement on a number. We’re going to have real spending cuts. I don’t know what some people don’t understand about this.” Earlier in the day, Mr. Boehner told ABC News that there is “no daylight between the Tea Party and me. What they want is they want us to cut spending. They want us to deal with this crushing debt that’s going to crush the future for our kids and grandkids. There’s no daylight there.”
What Mr. Boehner is referring to is the reality that all of the current political strategy is about next to nothing with regard to the big picture. The $3.7 trillion budget president Obama presented to Congress this year contains a deficit of $1.6 trillion, and in the month of February alone the federal government ran a deficit of $223 billion. At most, the current impasse threatening to shut down the government is over $40 billion. So why the intransigence?
No doubt this battle is a dress rehearsal for the real showdown, which begins with the debt ceiling battle in which Democrats insist that the current ceiling of $14.3 trillion must be raised, while Republicans insist it won’t happen without major structural changes in government spending. The fight continues when the battle over the 2012 budget begins, with Sen. Paul Ryan’s (R-KY) Roadmap for America, so far the only serious long-term proposal for reducing America’s debt, hovering in the background. It culminates in the 2012 election, when Americans will vote to maintain the nation’s current trajectory towards insolvency, or pull back from the abyss. Since this current impasse is the smallest battle of the bunch, both parties will undoubtedly try to gauge public sentiment “on the cheap” to better prepare themselves for the future.
Predictably, Democrats have resorted to demagoguery to prevent any substantial budget cuts now or in the future. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) claimed the GOP budget plan is the “same tired formula of extending tax breaks to the rich and powerful at the expense of the rest of America–except this time on steroids.” Incoming DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz claimed Ryan’s proposal would “literally be a death trap for some seniors” while Nancy Pelosi contended that six million low-income elderly would be “deprived of meals.” Harry Reid claimed the Republican agenda is “extreme,” a word Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) advised four of his Senate colleagues to use whenever they referred to the Tea Party, in order to sow disunity among Republicans. Mr Schumer thought the call was private, but it turned out reporters were listening. Apparently, Mr. Reid got the memo, so to speak.
If there is a shutdown, 800,000 “non-essential” government workers will go on furlough, but social services, such as Social Security payouts, Medicaid and food stamp operations, and unemployment benefits, will remain operational. There is a certain irony in that, since the three largest social service programs, (aka entitlements) Social Security Medicare and Medicaid, which comprise nearly 60 percent of the budget, will have to be addressed if there are to be any serious reforms in federal spending. Yet given the current intransigence and the attendant demagoguery, coupled with the insignificant stakes involved, it is hard to imagine what will occur when those stakes increase–exponentially.
Perspectively, Democrats and Republicans are currently arguing over how many thimbles of water should be removed from a tsunami of debt which threatens the entire nation. And while each party is trying to blame the other for the mess, one compelling reality reveals the fraud of doling out equal measures of accountability: no matter how flawed, Republicans have put forth both a short-term solution to the current impasse, and a long-term solution for America’s financial crisis. Democrats have offered nothing but criticism in return. In the coming months, from the debt ceiling confrontation occurring in the next couple of months, to the election culminating in 2012, Americans are going to have to decide which approach constitutes genuine leadership.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.
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