Hurdling the cliff
It is mid-January 2013, and we haven’t fallen off the dreaded ‘fiscal cliff’ yet. At least, I don’t think we have. But it is difficult to understand the real scope of our current national financial condition. For several months now, experts have warned us of the impending disaster for our country if action was not taken by our Congress before the end of 2012. Most of the rhetoric got buried under the bustle of the approaching holidays or the excitement of sports playoffs and bowl games.
I must confess I didn’t jump to action last fall at the warning of a ‘fiscal cliff’ issued by Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve. He claimed ‘the year-end expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and imposition of deep spending cuts would send the U.S. toppling back into recession.’
Since then, we have been bombarded with pundits stating the drastic nature of our country’s financial situation. I pulled up Standard & Poor’s website to get an idea of the national debt and its impact on our economy. The information it presented would have spun the head of the most hardened researcher. I knew that they had downgraded the USA in 2011 because we raised our debt limit. Now, in 2013, we are staring at a $16 trillion debt and are again scrambling to find a solution. Our options seem to be to shut down government, again raise the debt limit or come up with a new consensus on where to get more money and how to spend it.
It sounds like a simple task to balance a budget when you first explain it to your kids. Make two lists. One: What are your expenses as dictated by your needs? Two: How much money do you have coming in? But, over the years, it gets tricky, and both opportunities and expenses arise that we hadn’t expected. Borrowing enters the picture. We don’t always see the hidden dangers ahead. I remember a few years ago, credit card companies were courting college kids with no incomes at all and mortgage companies were giving home loans to folks with barely a down payment. Enter an international climate with governments and merchants interacting freely with the USA Now, we can play on another country’s dime or invest in business and resources beyond our regulatory control. Simple has simply gone by the wayside.
What is the average citizen to do? We have chosen a representative form of participatory government. We can’t all concentrate on running our country, and so we elect people to do that for us. But that doesn’t let us off the hook as participants in the process. We are all responsible in a democracy, and we say that all people should be heard. It is a form of governance that has produced this wonderful country in which we live. I believe in it, and I want to work hard to defend and improve our government.
So, with good intentions, we try to figure out our part in the danger of a ‘fiscal cliff.’ Read a dozen articles, hear a dozen speeches and get even more confused. It is complex, and even experts don’t see a straight road out of this mess. But it can’t mean just grumping and throwing up our hands.
We don’t often teach ‘civics’ in our schools these days, and rarely do we surround our own children with the mental exercises of current events discussions. Being a citizen in our democracy takes some training, and we don’t get it from TV stations carrying the banner of their own political bias. To our detriment, we practice the old policy of being polite in public and not discussing religion or politics. In other words, we vote, we leave politics to the experts and then we disengage.
Our political systems have proven to be inadequate in meeting the challenges of our modern technological and international economic conditions. We need to re-evaluate practices that have been developing for years. I’m afraid we are often lazy voters falling for catchy phrases, candidates we know and like or folks who just reinforce our own bias on a single issue. Instead, let’s start now to develop thoughtful citizens who can take responsibilities in elections of the future.
Another glaring problem I see is unbridled campaign spending. Is this to be a country where the highest bidder wins?
We need to change the way legislative districts are drawn. As it is now, every 10 years, the majority party redraws them to lock in safe districts for their own members. What happened to the power of ‘one man, one vote’? Recently, there seems to have been a decline of fellowship among lawmakers. To build a consensus, folks have to understand each other and be willing to talk.
During these days of snow, potholes in the streets and talk of a ‘fiscal cliff,’ are we like the child crying in the store, ‘Mama, I want it now! Please, mama, I need it now!’? We want our streets cleared and smooth, but please don’t ask us to pay for it.
Any compromise is going to make cuts in programs that are meant to help people. Paying our bills as a nation is going to cost all of us more. But brinkmanship in making public policy is not going to solve either of these unpleasant realities. Putting off decisions on the real issues or avoiding compromise on some of our personal priorities can only destabilize our economic condition.
I urge you to wade through the complex issues, contact your congressmen and women, talk to your colleagues and family members and make your thoughts heard. Our form of government ‘ a democracy ‘ is worth it and demands nothing less.