As the Nov. 23 deadline approaches, frantic politicians are worried that automatic budget cuts will go into effect because the so-called budget Super Committee has yet to make any headway toward a compromise about how to cut $1.5 trillion during the next 10 years.
Since compromise is a dirty word in Washington, D.C., and since the 2012 presidential campaign is in full swing a year in advance, posturing and hand-waving have been ways of expressing views and disagreements. Perhaps a look at Greece and Italy would remind politicians that they remain public servants. Does the public really want another default crisis? Is the war of Republicans against Democrats worthy of the sacrifices it will bring about for the 99 percent?
The committee chairs are Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas (R) who opposes any tax increase and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington (D) who also chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
They are joined by
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland (D);
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts (D);
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana (D), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee;
Rep. Xavier Becerra of California (D);
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina (D);
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona (R), who has threatened to quit if any cuts are proposed to the defense budget;
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania (R),
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio (R), who was White House budget director in the Bush administration;
Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan (R), a tax expert;
and Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan (R).
On some level it’s important to note who these politicians are because the future of the national budget rests in their hands. They have been empowered to find a solution, a compromised plan that will affect us all for the next 10 years. If they fail to act, automatic across-the-board reductions will take place.
On another level, though, the committee of 12 simply represents the two political parties and their leaderships in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. They do their parties’ bidding, and as such have no voice of their own. They were nominated to this committee because they are reliable pawns who won’t make decisions on their own.
What we have, then, is a powerful committee whose sole purpose is to fail the public. If the committee “succeeds” in fulfilling the expectations of the political leaderships of both parties, that is, maintains a hard line on rehearsed positions — no new taxes for the Republicans and no decreases in entitlements for the Democrats — then it fails the public. If it fails to fulfill these expectations, it will succeed in averting the kind of financial disasters we are seeing in Europe.
Despite common claims that Americans have short memories and that they don’t care about global matters except when it’s about wars, the Greek and Italian crises are too close to ignore. The financial markets are global markets, and as such, what happens in Europe affects us all, including the price of gas at the pump and the interest rates on mortgages and cars. The global nature of financial markets, regardless of national regulations, depends on national policies (as the EU is learning anew every month).
When Greek politicians spar and fail to reach consensus on austerity measures, for example, Wall Street feels the pain; when they finally find their way to a unity government, a sigh of relief is heard across the globe. The same was the case when the Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi relinquished his position to a bureaucrat, and Wall Street remained confused. Whether feeling pain or confusion, when Wall Street reacts to European crises, Main Street feels the pain.
Even when we want to separate the political from the financial, so that legislation follows moral norms or social conventions to ensure peaceful coexistence among citizens, we know all too well that the political is the financial or that the financial is political. It’s not only the result of the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United. It’s deeper than that: the iconic Chicago School economist Milton Friedman always maintained that we vote with our wallets. For him, it was a benign but significant position: choices should remain with individual consumers who, through their spending, show what should be done (with parks, cars, or any other public service). It’s doubtful that he believed outright political bribing will be undertaken en masse by corporate titans and their lobbyists.
As the deadline for deficit reduction or budgetary changes approaches, let’s remind politicians that our economic well-being is in their hands, an important ingredient in preserving our political rights, not to mention our dignity as citizens who were promised in the Constitution — with all the compromises of the day — “domestic Tranquility…common defense…general Welfare…and…the blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS and teaches a course on Politics and the Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Previous articles can be found at sassower.blogspot.com