Watching this whole debt ceiling spectacle is a trial for me. I want to tell the Republicans, “Stop playing games that stymie every Democratic offer and initiative and do your patriotic duty: compromise for the good of the nation.” And I want to tell the Democrats, “Don’t give away the house while negotiating, and stand firm on raising revenue.” I’m for ending the Bush tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, which I consider a no brainer, since they are the ones who benefited most by the Bush tax cuts.
But I am bothered by the whole simplistic “we took the pledge” mentality on the right, and the mantras of the Tea Party, which have stifled virtually every moderate Republican who still holds office. (Remember the two women from Maine?) I want someone to say a few obvious but, in this current climate, contrarian things about government. So here goes:
1. Small government, of itself, is not a goal worth seeking. You won’t find a right to small government in the Constitution, nor did the founding fathers, if that is the authority that matters most to you, insist on it. No, the goal of our constitutional republic is good government—just government by and for a free people; government run by majority rule. If government needs to expand in order to accomplish the common good, then it should. If, on the other hand, government grows so big that its size hinders the lawmaking and oversight that is its purpose, then it can go on a diet. Whether that latter scenario has in fact happened may be a matter for dialogue, but my point is that “good government,” not small government ought to be the goal.
2. Taxation is not immoral or malevolent, but rather is a means to good government. Taxes are mentioned in the Constitution. And taxes are malleable; they can be kept stable, or cut or raised. The government should use discretion about when to keep, cut or raise taxes.
The notion that raising taxes is anathema is preposterous. If the U.S. or an ally were invaded and military assistance were called for over a sustained period of time (Think: Vietnam; S. Korea; Europe during World War II), what would the Tea Partiers do? Why should federal services and protections be cut or jeopardized—schools closed, workers fired, bridges unrepaired—when taxes to support the military could be raised? Or what if a major disaster took place or an epidemic broke out requiring an enormous and sustained increase in public health care? What cuts should be made to pay for that? These examples are undoubtedly extreme, but testing the thesis.
Let me try something more realistic: What about a huge and growing federal deficit that could over time threaten the economic well being of our nation? The Tea Partiers apparently find the deficit horrendous enough to pre-empt many other national concerns—like job creation, affordable health coverage for all Americans, immigration reform and so on. Why isn’t deficit reduction then worthy of any tax increase? Even on, say, the wealthiest individuals who own more than half the individually held assets of this country? Ruling out any tax increase is pure nonsense. My point is that tax hikes are an ordinary tool of a democratic government and should be used when needed.
3. Voters should view tax rebates and tax cuts as a form of federal spending. Why? Because they function just like other government “giveaways” in terms of their effect on the economy, the federal budget, future tax needs and the federal deficit. Consider that between 2002 and 2009, the Bush administration cut taxes totaling some $1,812 billion. His government chose to forego revenue collection, which could have been applied then to the federal deficit. Instead that deficit grew under President Bush throughout his 8 years in office. Rather than spend down the deficit, nipping it in the bud, Mr. Bush “spent” those billions on a popular form of stimulus, which contributed greatly to the deficit’s growth over time.
4. Compromise is not a bad word, but is vital to good governance. It is not per se a violation of one’s principles, but rather a recognition of the fact that voters have elected a body of representatives with diverse viewpoints. In our two-party system, bipartisanship is both essential and patriotic. For lawmakers are elected to serve all of the people, not only their particular constituents nor only, God forbid, their donors. It is a disservice for any one party (or group) to spend all of their time and energy knocking down the work of other elected legislators. Doing nothing but setting up obstacles until the next election, which is not an unfair description of the Republicans in the House since Mr. Obama was elected, is not to be confused with real governance. I think the American people should be up in arms about all these unnecessary and unpatriotic Republican roadblocks.
5. What this country needs right now is jobs. The best minds we have ought to be figuring out how to create jobs quickly, especially jobs that equip society for the future: jobs that promote conservation and alternative energy, publish transportation, health care, even teaching English. A summer jobs program for unemployed young people, especially those who are unable to sit out the recession in college or graduate school, would have been a real help to thousands of families, but the fever to reduce the deficit and cut spending prevented any such proposal. For the sake of the millions of unemployed, both parties should put their heads together to create jobs. Regardless of what happens about the deficit, if Mr. Obama fails to create jobs, he will likely lose the presidency. The political irony is that if he were to lose his job, it is hard to believe that any Republican who replaces him would either create jobs or work to protect the health and wealth of the middle class as well as President Obama has.