Gridlock in D.C.

Published 7:28 pm Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I got out just in time this past week.

The snowstorm hit Washington with a vengeance and fury rarely seen in the nation’s capitol.

More than 30 inches of snow fell at the rate of three inches an hour. Three inches in southwest Georgia would tie the record for the most snow we have had at one time in history.

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The snow came hour after hour. Several buildings collapsed under the weight of the snow. It produced some stunning pictures of our nation’s most well-known buildings. Everything ground to a halt except the underground trains. Hundreds of thousands were without power with yet another storm coming their way.

The news media stated over and over that everything in the capitol city had come to a halt. Nothing was getting done. There was gridlock in the city.

It may have been a historic storm, but there is nothing new about gridlock in Washington these days. Even having a large majority no longer means that legislation will pass. The only thing that does seem to occur on a regular basis is ever-increasing deficits that have become so fantastically large that we can no longer get our minds around the numbers.

The president made a statement that I totally agree with regarding the deficit. He said, “What we have done is kicked this can down the road; we are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any farther.”

The debt per person is now approximately $40,000 per citizen. For some, that is the price of a new car. For others, the number might as well be $40 million. Fewer and fewer taxpayers are able to shoulder the debt as it grows faster and faster. One in 10 Americans are out of work. More and more are working longer for less.

The current budget for this year is projected to have a deficit of $1.6 trillion. My favorite description of a trillion is that if you had a bucket that held 100,000 marbles (a lot of marbles by itself), it would take 100 million buckets to hold them all.

Another way of looking at a trillion is that if you put a dollar bill on a stack at the rate of one per second it would take more than 31,000 years to get to a trillion. A trillion is one followed by 12 zeroes.

Like I said, the numbers start to become meaningless. Our leaders propose solutions that are equally meaningless. They project reductions in the deficit that aren’t based on reductions in spending but rather on projected increases in revenue caused by an expanding economy that isn’t on the horizon.

They propose expanding health care for 30 million people while saving a trillion dollars without increasing taxes. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. They hold town meetings without listening to the people.

Parts of our nation want unprecedented and decisive action expanding government even further. Others are relieved that the unexpected election of a Republican in Massachusetts will bring further gridlock to Congress. I find myself among those that think that inaction may be better than foolish action, especially if there isn’t a real plan for the future.

Therein lies our dilemma. We have truly kicked the can to the end of the road. The choices left to us are almost all painful. There will be less benefits and more taxes in the future and almost no politician is willing to be the bearer of that bad news to the American public. Such a message brings almost certain political death in our toxic environment.

I find myself wondering if I have the intestinal fortitude to support someone who will bring additional taxes and hardship to my company. Perhaps that would be an easier question to answer if I felt better about how those dollars were being spent.

We may be able to kick the can a bit more, but make no mistake that the end of the road is in sight. Our current path is unsustainable. Without adjustments to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, we simply can’t make the math work. We can’t cut government enough without correcting the growth of these entitlement programs.

The pundits have had a field day talking about Senator Brown’s victory in Massachusetts and just what it means. I submit that the people aren’t just angry about the health care bill and its funny money proposals.

They are angry about our political leaders refusing to be truthful with us. They are angry about thousands of earmarks in budgets that we can’t pay for in the first place. They are angry about partisan politics that make winning and power more important than leading and governing.

Washington looks beautiful today. Its monuments are covered with a blanket of white that peacefully brought this place to a halt. One can only hope that the season of spring that will soon follow brings with it fresh ideas that might melt the gridlock with the snow.