A real change in Washington

Published 2:06 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In the President’s Monday night speech, he stated that the debt ceiling, that figure that is like an individual’s credit card limit, was raised during the Reagan Administration a whopping 18 times.

He also said that during the George W. Bush Administration it was raised seven times.

Indeed, a quick search (CNN Money) of debt ceiling raises will show that, since 1962, the action that has so inflamed the passions of Washington has occurred 74 times, most of which you or I have never heard. Of course, just because we were not aware of these actions does not mean that they were innocent and had no bearing on the financial health of our country.

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It’s just that there used to be a certain amount of trust in our leadership; that they would do the right thing. We assumed that our elected officials had our best interests at heart and had a modicum of wisdom that directed them. Oh, those assumptions will get you every time!

The President’s point in reminding us of all those times that we had raised our debt ceiling and no one had blinked an eye was to intimate that it was no big deal and business as usual. The Speaker of the House, Mr. Boehner, begged to differ and said, “Those days are over,” meaning that the American people have said enough is enough.

I don’t know how serious either of the parties are, but it does seem to me that we have taken a baby step forward in the acknowledgment of our spending problem. That’s one of the positives that I am enjoying.

There are two sides to every coin. There are many who feel that one of the many problems we have in this country is that we spend too much. I think it would be hard for anyone to argue with that statement. In fact, it seems that both political parties, at this time, are falling all over themselves to see how much they can cut from our enormous federal budget.

It’s funny, though, to watch them set forth their plans and call their reductions real, when lots of times, their cuts are what a magician might call a sleight of hand. Plus, they both want to make the cuts as painless as possible. Here is a news flash. Any meaningful cuts will be painful!

In addition to the cuts, one side wants additional revenue. That’s the other side of the coin. It’s called the “balanced” approach, an Orwellian phrase if I have ever heard one. By “balanced,” they mean that not only will there be cuts, but those cuts will be balanced by additional income or, in real talk, tax increases.

It’s amazing to me that the word “balanced” would mean anything other than equality between incoming resources and outgoing expenditures. But that’s not what is meant in Washington by balanced. That city has its own definition of words.

There have been many words spoken lately and one might even be weary of the rhetoric. I know I am, but I am also encouraged in many ways. Here are a few of those encouragements.

I have already mentioned that it is a positive development that we have looked at our federal budget and acknowledged that it is out of kilter. Most know that to fix a problem, the first action is to admit the problem.

Here is another encouraging development. I believe that Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, has risen to the occasion by recognizing its responsibility in the setting of a financial direction. The Constitution of the United States expresses certain orderliness in the budgeting process.

The President has input by statute. He (or she someday) submits a budget, but only as a starting point. The ultimate responsibility for the financial health of the country lies with the people, not one person, even if we call that person the President.

Our system of government is one of three equal branches, each with its own sphere of influence. This type of governance was unique to the world when it was created, and it is no coincidence that it has served us well in the past, even though there are times when it is cumbersome.

It is easy for the Executive Branch, with its advantageous bully pulpit, to be like the tail that wags the dog. In other words, we sometimes allow that particular branch, especially when it is led by a gifted politician, to lead us around as if we have a ring in our nose. We, the people, would like the going easy and prosperous and we are easily led.

I believe this president enjoyed his voice and power. One would only need to hear his command of the Legislative Branch to “be in my office at 11:00 on Saturday.” I remember being sent to the principal’s office in school and that’s what it sounded like.

This debt ceiling debate that has been very intense, even rancorous, has called for a course correction in the direction of our federal government. The Legislative Branch has battled toe-to-toe with this President and that’s a good thing, but not always a comfortable thing.

Not all would agree with me. A large portion of Americans will say that this “back and forth” arguing is bad for the country. I understand that it would be great if we had a smooth, runs-like-a-sewing-machine kind of government.

We have had that kind of “to get along, go along” style for a long time and where has it gotten us? Fourteen and one-half trillion dollars in debt and a request to add some more. In the past, the request would have been a matter of business as usual, but not this time. Some people were elected in 2010 and they have given a firm, but simple “No.” I think they mean it.

In the end, we’ll probably raise the debt ceiling, but it has not been business as usual. I am encouraged enough to think that there has been a real change in Washington.