The Great Disconnect, Part II

President Obama announced yesterday that he has struck a deal with Republicans.  On the surface, this sounds great.  I’m all for getting a little governing done – compromise; make deals; cross the aisle.  It sounds good.  But then I read a little bit more about what the general facts of this compromise, and I’m so let down.  Again.  To me, this compromise epitomizes what is wrong with our political system – no one is willing to do anything that might be unpopular.

I don’t know all the details of what is going on.  I am only a casual oberver of politics.  I’ve made it clear before that I voted for Obama, and would consider myself more of a Democrat than a Republican, but I’ve never been a strict party-line follower.  I’ve voted several times in important elections for third-party candidates just because I don’t think either party gets it.  And this compromise is a perfect example.

Everyone seems to recognize the problem with a huge national debt.  It reached an alarming level generations ago, and it has only gotten worse (with a brief respit in the 90s when the federal government actually had a budget surplus).  Today, the national debt is beyond what a person can even fathom.

To paint with an extremely wide brush, I can sum things up by saying that Republicans want to lower taxes and lower spending to get the budget under control.  This would allow the free market and capitalism to “do its thing,” so that people can work and buy and own and sell without impediment.  Without government interference, investors can do more investing, which then creates jobs, which creates income for all people – including the working poor.  In short, lower taxes and lower spending benefits all and balances the budget.

On the other hand, Democrats are generally okay with higher taxes and more government programs to create a safety net for people.  They believe that the free market, left unimpeded, simply creates a wider disparity between rich and poor.  They are in favor of a progressive tax, meaning that higher incomes are taxed at higher rates because people with higher incomes have presumably reaped the benefits of society, and should therefore pay for it. In short, higher taxes and social programs benefit all and balances the budget.

I do not believe that either stance is inherently more moral, or even more correct.  I think there are problems with both.  I think there is room for both as well.  I think the values of either side have merit, and either side expressed without checks would be dangerous.  The problem is, in our political system, neither side has the courage to do the unpopular part of their system.

In other words, Democrats want to spend on important programs, but they do not have the courage to push for higher taxes.  Republicans want to lower taxes, but do not have the courage to actually cut any programs.  The recent compromise was a perfect example of this.

The Democratic President wanted to raise taxes and extend unemployment benefits.  The Republicans in Congress wanted to keep taxes at the lower level, and end unemployment benefits.  This is perfectly in line with the basic values of each party.  But when they came to a compromise, they picked the two popular, more expensive, and thus defecit-inducing solutions.  The compromise was to extend the unemployment benefits, which will raise government spending; and keep taxes lower, which will keep revenue lower.   So what do we get: More spending and less revenue.  In other words: defecit.

Instead of two parties that hold onto their values, and come to tough compromises, we have two parties that are concerned only with holding onto their jobs.  The Democrats keep spending on programs, but don’t have the will to actually raise taxes to pay for them.  The Republicans keep lowering taxes, but don’t have the will to actually cut programs.  I realize that this is an oversimplification, but the end result is clear.  What we have is a great disconnect – a cycle of creating programs we don’t have money for and cutting taxes because its popular.

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