Chris Graham: Down the middle

President Obama on Wednesday released a down-the-middle plan for dealing with the federal government’s deepening budget crisis.

I meant the term down the middle to mean one thing – that it features some elements that appeal to the left and some that appeal to the right. But I full recognize that it can mean something else entirely. In baseball, one of my side gigs, as the general manager of a summer college team, hitters love pitches thrown down the middle, because those are easier to knock out of the park. And pitchers only throw the ball down the middle when they’re behind in the count and need to throw a strike at the risk of grooving one.

You could say that Obama is behind in the count and in desperate need of a strike, but more desperate than our president are we, the people, who have against our better judgement elected a Congress full of hardcore liberals and extremist conservatives who see every down-the-middle proposal as an excuse to swing for the fences to knock another one out of the park.

“Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, and the president’s call to impose more job-destroying tax hikes on our families and small businesses is not the answer to the serious fiscal challenges facing our nation,” said Fifth District Congressman Robert Hurt, referring to the proposal from Obama to eliminate the Bush-era tax cuts for wealthy Americans as being those of the “job-destroying” nature.

Never mind that before the Bush tax cuts we were coming off a long-term effort led by Bill Clinton that led to a budget surplus in 2000. The tax cuts for the wealthy that were the hallmark of Bush fiscal policy fueled the speculative bubble in real estate that imploded at the end of the second Bush term and also fueled then-record deficits that have deepened with Obama-era efforts to dig the economy out of the hole.

But rest assured that the rich got richer and have largely remained so even as the rest of us lost jobs and lost market value on our homes, for the vast majority of us our biggest indicator of wealth.

Which isn’t to say that Hurt isn’t entirely incorrect in saying that Washington has a spending problem, because it does. We spend more on our military than the entirety of the rest of the world does. Combined. Without an enemy on any of our borders, without an enemy really defined anywhere. We also spend more on entitlements – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid – without a measurable positive impact per dollar spent.

The Republican response to the Obama budget comes in the form of a cleverly crafted plan from Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan. I call it cleverly crafted because somehow the proposal has been embraced in the media as being the work of some sort of centrist GOP savant when in actuality it’s little more than standard GOP boilerplate – cutting Medicaid 20 percent, raising the eligiblity age for Medicare to 67 and still somehow finding room for $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for corporations and the superwealthy.

“Rep. Ryan’s proposed budget is not a sincere attempt at fiscal responsibility. It represents a calculated political game that seeks to reward his powerful friends on Wall Street. Undermining programs that working families rely on while calling for even more tax breaks for the wealthy is irresponsible and reckless,” said Doris Crouse-Mays, president of the Virginia AFL-CIO.

Some social-program cuts – and here I say to my liberal friends, sorry, but it’s true – are going to have to be made for us to keep our fiscal house in order. Some cuts to our defense budget – sorry, hawks – are also going to have to be part and parcel to the effort. And some tax hikes – sorry, me, a small businessman fortunate enough in the improving business climate to be moving up to a new tax bracket that will be impacted by the proposed Obama tax hikes – are another important part of the equation.

I’m reminded of the old spiritual that was the defining song of the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Gotta keep our eyes on the prize. America didn’t get to be the world’s superpower on the cheap. It was investments in education, innovation, technology – basically investments in ourselves and our own potential – that allowed us to build the dominant world economy with a standard of living previously unknown and unimagined in human history.

Who’s with me on this?

“The only way we will move past partisanship and gridlock to solve our nation’s fiscal challenges is to leave our partisan hats behind and work in good faith to craft a responsible agreement. I still believe we must put everything on the table: spending cuts, including defense, entitlement reform, including strengthening Social Security, and tax reform. That’s how we will put our economy on a more fiscally responsible path that leads to economic growth and greater global competitiveness,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., a member of a group of six Senators who have been working toward a bipartisan solution to the nation’s deficits and debt.

Yes, of course. Another one of those down-the-middle guys.

Wish there were more like him up there on Capitol Hill. There’s plenty of us out here in the real world. If only Capitol Hill could ever resemble the real world.

More columns by Chris at TheWorldAccordingToChrisGraham.com.