USA TODAY ran an editorial on the gridlock in Washington. It began with this.
Americans don’t ask much from their Congress. They want it to stay out of their lives, not mess things up and, once in while, solve a problem or two.
I see. They do not ask much. The Federal Register publishes 80,000 pages a year of fine-print regulations. The federal government has run up a $16.7 trillion debt, and says it needs more to avoid a shutdown. It spends 20% of the nation’s GDP every year, and it keeps that percentage artificially low by counting federal spending in the denominator — assuming that federal spending adds to production rather than subtracting from production. Then there are the federal government’s unfunded liabilities, which now are over $200 trillion, present value. This is the off-budget federal debt: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Off-budget debt is book-cooking on a scale unimaginable by the voters, which is why Congress keeps it off-budget.
The USA Today article then laments: “What they are getting during the debt-ceiling crisis and government shutdown is a Congress — or, to be more precise, a truculent House of Representatives — that is doing the exact opposite.”
The debate over the debt ceiling is a “foolish game of chicken being waged Tuesday on Capitol Hill.” It is foolish to imagine that the Congress should not add another $1 trillion to the on-budget debt.
Having started the crisis in a doomed bid to kill Obamacare, hard-line House Republicans scoffed at a bipartisan deal in the Senate designed to reopen the government and stave off a market-roiling default.
There was no attempt to kill ObamaCare. There was merely a demand that it be delayed for a year — something that Obama has already allowed with respect to small-business implementation.
More destructively, they pushed new limits on the Treasury secretary’s ability to use extraordinary measures to avoid default the next time a new deadline is reached, which would shut down a safety valve against Congress’ own irresponsibility.
This would have ended the Treasury’s book-cooking of the official figure for the federal debt — an exercise in public deception. The Democrats would not accept that!
The Senate’s kick-the-can-down-the-road plan — reopening the government until mid-January, extending the borrowing limit until early February and beginning broad budget talks — at least has the virtue of being better than nothing. But Senate Democrats, apparently irresistibly tempted to get a share of the blame, heaped on a new condition.
They granted a political handout to organized labor in the Senate deal, agreeing to delay a $63-a-head Obamacare tax that unions have been complaining about. This would drive up prices on the exchanges Democrats supported and put Obamacare on the political operating table, where Democrats insisted the health law shouldn’t be.
So, the talks are stalled.
Reason may yet prevail. As before, the best way out of this mess is to reopen the government, raise the debt ceiling and leave all the other issues — sequestration, Obamacare, entitlement reform, tax simplification — to the regular legislative process.
The phrase “regular legislative process” means “kick the can.”
We are warned: “When the U.S. government can’t act responsibly in the face of a common crisis, there is a great deal to be worried about.” In short, it’s federal debt forever. That’s the solution to the crisis. It’s not the crisis itself.