Mon, Jul

As the GOP Says Goodbye to Grover Norquist, Will the Democratic Party Say Hello to FDR and JFK?

POLITICS - Maybe it’s the GOP’s stunning loss in the recent elections, or maybe it’s the upcoming “fiscal cliff”, that is driving individuals such as Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, and Peter King (and a whole slew of other prominent Republicans) to make a strong departure from the previous Norquist Pledge of “no new taxes”, but it’s happening.  Yet while this appears to be the big NEWS of the day, it’s not the big QUESTION, which is:
Are Democrats as willing to compromise on spending as Republicans are willing to compromise about raising revenue?
Compromise is tough, and compromise is painful—especially when one must confront one’s supporters who will claim they’ve been betrayed.  But compromise is exactly what California Governor Jerry Brown did when he cut spending and achieved modest pension reform after former Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar failed to achieve those worthy and necessary goals…and Governor Brown was rewarded by a self-imposed tax hike by California voters to balance the budget.
Of course, such compromise isn’t always achievable.  Lost amidst the clamor of how former President Ronald Reagan raised our federal deficit with his tax cuts, however, is the failure of his Congressional counterparts to follow through with a promise to reduce spending.  Lost also amidst the clamor of how Reagan’s successor, former President H.W. Bush, broke his “no new taxes pledge” is that Congress—again—did not follow through with spending cuts.
Which means that:
1) Compromise is a two-way street, and must be performed by both parties to be truly “compromise”.
2) As much as a President can make promises on budgets, he/she will be able to do nothing without a Congress unwilling to do its share of the heavy lifting and painful-but-necessary decision-making.
Well, former President H.W. Bush has gone on record as asking “Who the Hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?”  And as other Republicans appear to be following suit, the concerns about the lack of moderates on both sides of the political aisle abound. 
Ultimately, however, being a “moderate” isn’t what’s needed—being “moderate” is often disregarded as being a “flip-flopper”, as the two uber-wealthy Massachusetts Presidential wannabees John Kerry and Mitt Romney were successfully labeled.
But being a person of character and courage—and making one’s case to the American People—is what’s needed for Americans to be brave and do the right thing.  If liberal Governor Jerry Brown and conservative Governor Chris Christie can both rally their states, then so, too, can President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid take a cue from House Speaker John Boehner and talk about really, really, REALLY difficult steps needed to balance our budget.
We’ve done the George W. Bush thing and—for the first time in American history—lowered taxes instead of raising them to pay for our foreign conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Furthermore, he threw out Medicare Part D, ripping open hundreds of billions in unsustainable deficit spending and opening the door for all the equally-unsustainable fiscal fears of Obamacare.
Then we did the Barack Obama thing and spent trillions in dollars of emergency spending that is even more potentially damaging long-term to our economy (and the ability of future generations to pay off).  Yet while the needs to fight foreign conflicts, keep the immediate economy alive and address our looming fiscal healthcare crisis are all worthy and necessary, paying for them in a responsible and sober manner is equally worthy and necessary.
Something has to change, and it can’t be just “the Republican losers need to change their big, bad ways”.  Should the GOP cave and we jack up taxes only on the rich, that’s still $100 billion or less to address a deficit over $1 trillion, so the REALLY tough decisions haven’t been made yet.
The answer?  Well, perhaps our President and Senate Majority Leader can rediscover two prominent Democratic Presidents that defined much of twentieth-century America:  FDR and JFK:
FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), as in “The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself”.
JFK (John Fitzgerald Kennedy), as in “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, But What You Can Do For Your Country”.
That means acknowledging that our current income tax burden really IS too lopsided, and that the wealthiest 1-2% can’t come up with enough money to really make a sufficient dent in our deficit and debt.  That means a small hike in the income tax to the middle class, and/or a sales tax that EVERYONE must pay, is needed to really raise sufficient revenue to balance our budget (note how Governor Brown used both income tax and sales tax hikes to balance California’s budget).
That also means ENDING THE PANDERING.  Whether failed Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was wrong in what he said, or how he said it, with respect to “the 47%”, that term/number still is sticking as part of our lexicon…which means that while his proclaimed number, or his dismissive approach of addressing that number, was wrong there’s still a small amount of truth to his general complaint that CANNOT be denied.
And as a physician who sees too few resources going to the truly ill and needy, and too many resources going to those patients gaming the system (nice clothing, cellphones and electronic gizmos I see there, Mr./Ms. “let’s see what Tylenol and other over-the-counter stuff that Medi-Cal can get me for free!), I’ve little doubt that some brave but sure fixes can be accomplished to health care and to spending in general. 
Maybe also we can stop the election-time shouting down of Representative Paul Ryan and focus on his (and so many others as well) ideas of preserving Medicare and Social Security for the truly old/infirm, while reminding younger generations that these two programs were NEVER meant to be full-time health plans or pension plans…just SUPPLEMENTS to one’s own personal and responsible savings.
It’s my contention that EVERYONE will be willing in this country to work harder, pay down debt and sacrifice if they see EVERYONE ELSE doing the same.  This isn’t Greece, which has little control over its economy or how it raises revenues, and which has been overcome by an entitlement obsession.  This isn’t France, which still pines for a 35-hour work week which the rest of the world looks down on with scorn and derision.
This is the United States of America, where acknowledging that corporate welfare, overindulging the public sector unions and military-industrial complex, and industry/employment-killing regulations are intolerable, but that shared sacrifice and a public taxpayer investment in our country is patriotic.  Having everyone pay more (even if it’s just a token for those less wealthy) gets us back to World War Two, where everyone paid more—and tolerated no nonsense/garbage/wasteful spending.
So, as with my past CityWatch article on the “fiscal cliff”, perhaps the doom-and-gloomers ought to dial their comments back a bit—or even a lot—as our Republican leaders start taxing more and our Democratic leaders start spending less.
My only hope and request?  That my kids and grandkids NOT be asked to pay for the debt that WE got ourselves into.
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected] . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us.   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) 
Vol 10 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 27, 2012

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