David Reynolds: Waiting game

I spent a previous lifetime playing with budgets in Washington, so I should have known that the debt talks were a game, a waiting game, not unlike those played in Searchlight, Nevada, Senator Reid’s home town. Except in Searchlight they play with their own money.

Yes, that’s what they do in DC, take credit and give out blame, a place where partisan gamesmanship will always trump problem solving. And the players make sure that there are no knock out punches. Otherwise incumbents could not stand for reelection and the next game.

However, there are differences between the way games are played in Nevada and Washington, DC. In Nevada ESPN covers the World Series of Poker. The games at the White House and on Capitol Hill are covered by the other networks.

Another difference: The Washington game of playing fiscal chicken in also being played out in New York and Chicago. In New York, our financial capital, they don’t give a hoot about blame, only the color of money and credit ratings. And in Chicago there is a large building that houses Mr. Obama’s reelection headquarters. It calls the shots being fired from the White House grounds.

Then there are the Republicans, the Charlie Brown political party that never gets to kick the football and is constantly being shot at by the media. In the process to make government smaller (not necessarily better), the GOP seeks political cover. The balanced budget amendment is its latest blanket.

But this time Lucy and her fellow Dems may have outsmarted themselves. While scaring my generation over Medicare and Social Security is considered good Inside the Beltway politics, that is, until New York spoke up. Wall Street (Standard & Poors) said DC had gone too far and did something it hasn’t done since 1917 — downgrade Treasury bonds. Now Grandma, who owns a few of those bonds has a new worry, besides Medicare and Social Security.

What this all means is that the current battle over how to bring down the federal debt is the 2012 presidential election being held in 2011.

How about four questions for when Congress returns next month and the president leaves Martha’s Vineyard?

First, why do we get a daily feeding of wordy generalities when only the numbers count? As everyone knows by now, the devil is in the details. Let’s see the numbers! We can add.

Second, what about the Gallup Poll? The public showed a strong resistance to tax increases. Half said that the federal government should attempt to reduce its debt with spending cuts (20% only; 30% mostly), while only 11% said that it should be done with tax increases (4% only; 7% mostly). (The rest were fence sitters.) That’s a 4.5:1 ratio in favor of spending cuts!

Third, why doesn’t either side ever mention the big step already taken to solve this problem? In February 2010 the president (yes, the same one) established the 18-member bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. While separate reports were filed there was also considerable agreement, particularly between the co-chairs, former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson (R) and University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles (D). Not surprising, their report also favors a wide margin in favor of cutting spending over new taxes.

Fourth, what is your game Mr. President?” In any negotiation there must be trust and credibility on both sides if a successful long term compromise is to be reached. That is lacking from our president. He has lost his credibility. In its place he gives us the budget or financial plan of the month. We are now waiting for September’s. As the song goes,

“It’s a long, long way from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
And you ain’t got time for the waiting game”

Mr. President and Congress, we ain’t got time for the waiting game.

Column by David Reynolds


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