My View: A step ahead … off the cliff
February 19, 2013
The English language can be a landmine for some not born to it.
Recently, I heard a former U.S. ambassador reminisce about a foreign ambassador who boasted to him of progress they had made to overcome a crisis. Said the foreign ambassador: “We stood at the edge of a cliff and then we took a step forward.” In my mind, I visualized an old beep- beep roadrunner cartoon with a hapless critter stepping into thin air and falling into a crevasse.
That also reminded me about those on both sides of the aisle thinking that there would be progress if they stood at the edge of the sequester cliff, took a step they called forward, and plunged head-first into the chasm.
Many economists and the Congressional Budget Office predict that if the sequester’s dire cuts to both domestic programs and the Pentagon take place March 1, sooner or later unemployment would rise to 9 percent from 7.9 percent today and we will slip into recession (as we tisk-tisk a 1.5 percent growth in the last quarter).
Nothing in Sen. Marco Rubio’s GOP response to Obama’s State of the Union Address last week was reassuring. Rubio’s message: Middle class America, government shouldn’t help you; free enterprise will. All we need, he said, is 4 percent growth to solve our debt woes to help the middle class improve and get jobs.
Rubio’s sole specific economic pump-priming to increase growth was limited to more drilling for gas and oil on public lands and ramping up coal mining. Romney’s similar approach was rejected in November 2012. No surprise: The President leads congressional Republicans when it comes to dealing with the country’s debt limit, according to a Feb. 15 Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Rubio’s rhetoric contrasted sharply with the president’s advocating for what government could do for the middle class today … increase minimum wage, make preschool mandatory, invest in roads and bridges.
On the face of it, the GOP and Democrats seem oceans apart. Both short term plans to stimulate the economy preferred by the Democrats and Republicans’ sole reliance on spending cuts now as their long term plan to tackle the deficit look as dead in the water as the ill-fated cruise ship that lost power.
Some appearing in this past Sunday’s media gave sound advice: Tom Friedman, writing in the New York Times, implored the president “to make one more good shot at a grand bargain on spending, investment and tax reform …. because it would give the country so much more of a lift.” A grand bargain would include both short term stimulus and long term tax and entitlement reform. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summer on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show said the need for short term stimulus must not be ignored, but we should not exclude long term plans, either. “It was possible to chew gum and walk across the street at the same time.”
Is there any hope Congress can pull back from the cliff’s edge? In his address, Obama threw some lifelines to the GOP: He proposed to reduce Medicare costs by the equivalent amount proposed by the Simpson Bowles debt reform commission and he supported tax reform, including reducing taxes on businesses that created jobs in the U.S. Did the GOP seize the opportunity to deal? Not yet.
Republicans should also stop opposing closing tax loopholes and take a reality check. Simpson-Bowles (as well as Mitt Romney) proposed closing loopholes because cuts would alone not be enough to resolve the deficit problem. Math counts.
Washington Post ‘s Ruth Marcus on ABC’s “This Week” had the best line of Sunday: “Put the GOP and the Democrats on that stinky ship until they came to agreement.”