Friday, July 29, 2011

Open Letter on the Debt Crisis

Mr. President, Mr. Majority Leader, and Mr. Speaker (and Mr. Chief Justice if it helps):

The noise in Washington this week has been deafening, the heat has been off the charts, the accusations and threats unrestrained, and the rhetoric explosive. And what have we gleaned from it all? So far, nothing. You all saw this coming when the new House was sworn in last January, and what have you done since then? You waited until the self-imposed deadline, and very little leadership among you has been in evidence. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) explains just how simple these issues really are:

There are those who claim the freshmen Republicans in the House are irresponsible with their staunch position on "Cut, Cap and Balance," but to date it is the only piece of pending legislation that has passed, until a second attempt passed narrowly late today. Since then a flurry of proposals (and that's all they are -- proposals) have not been put into actionable legislation. Moody's remains unimpressed, saying nothing they've seen so far will work to appease their pending downgrade of the U.S. Treasury's AAA bond rating. What is pathetic in a crisis of leadership that seems to characterize Democrat control of the Senate and the White House is that we haven't yet seen a plan in writing. The budget submitted by this White House earlier this year was so deficient in specifics it was voted down 97-0, and nothing has come out of the Senate since.

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)
I am grateful for the efforts of Utah's congressional delegation who are leading the way in this fight -- specifically Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Congressman Jason Chaffetz (D-UT) and senior Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Lee is responsible for the content of the House legislation and it was sponsored courageously by Chaffetz where it passed. Cut, Cap and Balance is the responsible approach, the "balanced approach," if you prefer. Unfortunately, when it was sent to the Senate, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), House Majority Leader, decided to kill it on a procedural vote without giving anyone in the "deliberative body" a chance to debate or amend its merits or deficiencies.

Then the House Speaker, John Boehner (R-OH), went to work with Reid, feeling betrayed by a "wiggly" Jell-o-like occupant of the White House, to craft yet another Washington COMPROMISE solution. So far, no success on that path has been reached either. We'll now watch the Senate shred this latest attempt and see if they can come up with anything over the weekend that might have a chance for passage in the House.

In the meantime President Obama remains on the sidelines where he deserves to be as a lame duck and out of the discussions because he was summarily excluded (correctly) by Boehner as an impediment.

Since January, the threat of a downgrade in the U.S. Treasury credit rating for its bonds has been on the table. The rating agencies are looking for a commitment for real cuts in spending amounting to $4 Trillion, not ironically the same amount that has been amassed under the Obama administration in a short two and one-half years. I continue to be baffled why anyone would think borrowing $4 Trillion from principally the Chinese government then blaming George W. Bush for everything, as President Obama did last week without even acknowledging his own complicity might be a factor, is a viable campaign strategy by Obama's advisers. The thought makes reason stare. Then after that he demands that wealthy Americans pay their "fair share" in taxes.

It is my considered belief that Mike Lee is the statesman in all this. I define "statesman" as one who takes a principled stand in the face of popular opinion. However, the American people are lined up behind Lee on this one. A recent CNN poll indicates as many as 74 percent favor the general idea of a BBA without even knowing the specifics. You may disagree, but his influence is having a profound impact for a junior senator from a small state like Utah. Those who doubted his effectiveness as a freshman replacing a seasoned Bob Bennett can rest assured there would have been nothing coming from Bennett by comparison. So, kudos to Mike.

I do not speak for Lee (he is fully capable), but it's important to underscore what he is attempting to accomplish without impugning his motives as some have done. He is not in favor of raising the debt limit if he were making an isolated choice. In this climate currently, however, he is willing to make the necessary compromise now if he can get the Balanced Budget Amendment to change the structure of the government's spending habit to finally come under Constitutional control. Click the link (it's not a new idea). Anything short of a Constitutional amendment allows future Congresses to adjust whatever assumptions are put in place today and to change the law at will. That's what got us into this mess in the first place. I think that position is reasoned and worthy of consideration, especially when it authorizes a mechanism to deal with "emergencies" like wars. There are twenty Democratic Senators who are on the record as favoring the BBA idea.

When 49 states require their legislatures to balance their budgets, can anyone explain to me why expecting the same thing from the federal government is such a bad idea? When did it become "reckless" for government to commit to the taxpayers they would not spend more than they take in? Will those same people explain why deficit spending and unsustainable debt and borrowing is NOT reckless? I await your response. We're at a tipping point in America. The word of the year in politics is "UNSUSTAINABLE." Everybody uses that word. So let's bind Congress in the future to a sustainable and sensible process when it comes to spending priorities. Is that reckless?

I have always maintained since first being introduced to Mike's senate candidacy early in 2010, that he would make an impact on Washington if he could remain true to his beliefs. However, I acknowledge he cannot be effective in isolation, nor that any one man can change everything. That would be a truly audacious undertaking. If I were a betting man, I would wager the August 4th deadline is mythical and has no real merit as a drop dead date for solving the problem. If Americans have a few more weeks of watching these positions revealed for what they are -- mostly lies -- we'll see a public ground swell uniting behind Mike's leadership on the BBA. Why? Because President Obama has already caved on including taxes as part of this compromise. That's a reasonable compromise, and he is to be commended for taking taxes out of the equation. However, the spending cuts proposed by Reid have been exposed for what they are -- illusory rather than real cuts to trim the baseline for this year, particularly when an "assumption" about the end of our involvement in Afghanistan is included -- and REAL, tangible cuts out of this year's budget are what the credit rating agencies are looking for. They are certainly not going to be impressed with a promise to impanel more commissions to study the matters.

Everyone knows what is required, it seems, except the Democratic and Republican establishment leadership, who are taking us down a path of more "blue ribbon commissions" to do the hard work the American people elected their representatives to do. There is a committee of 535 elected representatives already in place -- 100 in the Senate and 435 in the House. They need to step up, write their best proposals, debate them in public rather than cutting deals behind closed doors, take the votes up or down, and be accountable instead of hiding behind procedure. The American people are screaming, "NO MORE GAMES!"

I stand with Senator Lee. We must put on the spending brakes immediately against THIS YEAR's baseline, then plan for the future by passing the BBA out of both houses of Congress, realizing that most of its provisions will take a matter of months, maybe years, to be approved by 3/4 of all the state legislatures before its provisions kick in. However, just the act of passing that legislation will signal Washington's commitment to the world and to our citizens we are taking immediate and realistic steps to curb the spending addiction.

If the individual states disagree with the BBA, then let them have their voice, and let the debates be held state by state until we reach the needed number. A return to states' rights and federalism at that level would be a welcomed change from what we are witnessing on the shores of the Potomac today. Yes, withdrawal from our easy credit addiction will be long and painful, but must be undertaken. Like all addictions, the time to quit is now, not tomorrow. I guarantee you those in Washington who are not willing to find the game changing solutions will be swept out of office in 2012.

There is no doubt when the Constitution was approved it baked in all the spending restraints and separation of powers by design to prevent tyranny from ever gaining power in America as it had in England. But the abuse of Constitutional principles defining those important limitations are only effective if all agree to be bound by its provisions. Sadly, that is not the case today.

Therefore, we must determine right now as a nation what course we will take. Will we at long last try to reclaim the liberties we have ceded as free men and women to an out-of-control tyrannical federal government, or will we wait for nature to take its irrevocable course and watch the ship of state sink beneath our feet? The choice could not be more clear to me. We have given money to this government and it was not enough. The government appears to be ready to confiscate and regulate even more, and we have created that voracious appetite by monetizing our debt and printing gobs of worthless paper. We have done this to ourselves, and we have what we have because of our own greed. Only our collective political will as a people can reverse this addiction and stop it in its tracks.

We can debate the merits of the proposed BBA (there are actually many versions afloat now), if a true debate can be had in today's environment, but this much seems clear -- drastic measures are needed now. If you use a percentage of past spending limits as a measurement, maybe that's not realistic, so let's come up with something else to cap what we spend if you like, but unless the spending cuts and caps are real and permanent, and until someone else comes up with a better idea, let's support Senator Lee's efforts to at least get us to the starting line on the debate as a nation.

The political gamesmanship is pathetic to watch. Only this morning I listened to President Obama suggest Americans need to keep up the pressure on their elected representatives. "Keep Tweeting," he encouraged. Really, Mr. President? That's your solution? Tweeting? Wouldn't it be hysterical if he were reported as a Twitter spammer and they shut down @barackobama?

There are some who are far to the right of Senator Lee. They would argue there is no defensible principled position on which we could possibly stand to consider raising the debt ceiling. They would advocate a complete collapse of the federal government as the only option avialable to prove a point and win the ideological argument for "purity."

I would suggest there might be an alternative.

It's called elections. They are free and vouched safe under the Constitution. We may have to wait for sixteen more months before enough like-minded people can be added to the ranks of those who believe as I do, but I have a feeling it will be worth the wait if it means saving the Republic by peaceful means. I don't love the thought of anarchy in the streets, nor do I relish a complete economic meltdown simply to prove your "pure" ideology is better than mine. America renews itself every two years by design. When it makes an egregious mistake in judgment, America can redeem herself. The pendulum swings back and forth.

While you may argue there is no principled room left to entertain a vote to raise the debt limit, I believe there is. Even Senator Lee recognizes it is irresponsible or naive to stamp his feet and refuse to raise the debt ceiling. His rational, if adamant stance on the BBA, makes sense while compromising on a debt ceiling increase tied to the strong medicine of the BBA later on. That's better than specious commissions to study and recommend spending cuts and caps that cannot bind the collective wills of future Congresses. Lost in the clamor of the ideology sometimes is the simple fact that the current proposed increase in the debt ceiling is only to handle what we've already obligated the government to do. We just need to make a stand that we won't continue our irresponsible spending habits.

Going forward, let's find Constitutional principles to stand on relative to the federal government's proper role in our lives. Then when we reduce the size of government we'll attack the silent elephant in the room in the aftermath -- who's got a plan for putting all the downsized federal government workers back to work in the private sector?

But that's tomorrow's problem.


  1. Great post! if I could only write like this!

  2. Thanks Neil -- the present circumstances demand that we all speak up or be doomed to our inescapable fate!