I've been watching the debate about raising the debt ceiling with morbid fascination. For most of my life, I've disliked politicians who seemed to lack a spine, and who would say whatever it was they needed to say to get elected, then just go along with the flow when they got to Washington. Our current fiscal situation isn't the blame of radicals, be they left or right. Ron Paul, for instance, is a radical. And he has spent his years in congress voting agaist pretty much every law of importance to pass before him. He was strong on his principals, but he didn't get much done. And I, for one, fantasized about having more men like him in Washington.
Our current debt is built on a foundation of compromise. Sure, Obama has poured gasoline on the debt fire, but it's crazy to pretend he lit the fire. For the most part, Republicans and Democrats alike have worked hand in hand for decades to pile up this debt, save for a brief bubble in the 90's where accounts went into the black, though that "surplus" was created entirely though overtaxation on Social Security. In theory, these Social Security revenues were set aside to pay future benefits. In truth, they were converted to general revenue the second they came in, with the not-so-secret knowledge that future benefits would be paid not from this surplus, but from future taxes.
Surprise! It's the future! And, suddenly, the two parties who compromised us into this debt have discovered that they have principals. My wish for people who would stand their ideological ground has come true, much to my horror. The Republicans won't allow for even a dime of increased tax revenue, even from closing truly counterproductive loopholes like ethanol subsidies. Democrats, on the other hand, are waiting with knives drawn for the Republicans to pass actual cuts, since if they really, truly want to balance the budget, sacred cows like Social Security have to be in play, and Democrats want to be seen as the defenders of the elderly, always a very strong political hand.
I had assumed that compromises would be struck at the last second. Now, I'm not so sure. I think the strategy of both parties is shifting to, "Let's just start campaigning for the next election." But, honestly, what is possibly going to change after the next election? Let's suppose that there's a Republican president, a Republican congress, and a Republican senate... 59-41. The 41 remaining Democrats are going to be from the bluest states in the country. They can shut down any legislation they want to if they stand together. And, do you really think Republican's will be unhappy with this? If they had total power, they'd be forced to make tough choices to bring the budget into balance, like cutting entitlements, military, or raising taxes. I predict they'd do none of the above, and campain for reelection on the platform of, "We tried, but those nasty, nasty Democrats stopped us." Which, with the substitution of one word, is pretty much going to be the full Obama campaign slogan.
Our entire political system seems to have abandoned actually accomplishing stuff, and is now built entirely on strategically pinning blame on opponents.
How do we get out of this spiral? Is there an exit strategy? Will somebody please turn on a light at the end of this tunnel?