Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Political posturing is killing this country

There are two major events in the past week that have brought the ire of the legislators. Though not exclusively, the GOP was especially galvanized to criticize these happenings. The events were the 2009 spending bill, but more specifically the nearly 8,000 earmarks legislators had placed in them. And the recent bonuses granted to AIG employees amounting to $160 million. While these are two unrelated events the unifying aspect is the way the GOP has used them to create political wedge issues. And they have done so in a manner that is so transparent that it’s hard to believe people buy it.

First, the earmarks:
Last week, Congress passed and President Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill. This was a bill that should have been passed prior to the beginning of the 2009 fiscal year on October 1, 2008, but it was delayed and a continuing resolution enacted to buy Congress some time to pass the bill. While the bill should have been passed prior to the beginning on the 2009 fiscal year, Democrats bet that a President Obama (or had McCain been elected, President McCain) would be more amendable to the party’s budget priorities. But I digress.

The real issue with the spending bill last week was not the delay in its passage, but according to the GOP, the problem was earmarks. In fact, the problem was some 8,000 earmarks placed in the bill by members of Congress. While we could have a complete discussion of earmarks, and why or why not they are the bane of the budget process, that isn’t the issue. The issue is that the GOP was criticizing President Obama for signing a bill with all of the earmarks that many Republicans had placed in it. It’s like ordering a chili-half smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl and then complaining when they bring your food because it has chili on it. Hopefully, you are as confused as I am.

Ultimately, the issue is not the earmarks at all. It isn’t the number of earmarks or the amount of those earmarks. It isn’t the fact that those earmarks comprised approximately 1.3% of the spending bill. It isn’t even that President Obama had campaigned on the fact that he would attempt to improve the budget process, specifically mentioning the thousands of earmarks. The real issue is that the Republicans put these earmarks in the bill. They placed them there, so they could tell their constituents at home that they brought that convention center or highway or building on the local university to their district or state. These same republicans who are criticizing President Obama for signing a bill with earmarks did so merely days after putting in funding for their own pet projects. They are simply trying to posture themselves politically.

Now personally, I think there are some earmarks that are great and I’m sure that we have all benefited from a few earmarks over the course of our lives. But to request an earmark and then turn around and criticize the bill for being too full of earmarks, is simply ridiculous.

Second, AIG bonuses
As I mentioned before the earmarks and AIG are connected, but simply in the way that these legislators are posturing. Now AIG, the infamous financial insurance group, which has exacerbated this financial crisis, has paid more than $160 million to employees in the form of bonuses. Should AIG have paid these bonuses? Absolutely not. Nobody should be rewarded for running a company the way the folks at AIG ran theirs. But let’s put this in perspective; $160 million is not that much money in terms of the federal budget or the operating budget of a major financial institution. (In fact, its about three times as much as the total amount of earmarks requested by Senator Cochran (R-MS) Ultimately, the legislators who are jumping on AIG are sensing that the public has had about enough. And they are attempting to position themselves as the populist legislators that they haven’t been since being elected.

While these criticisms may seem focused on Republicans, they are not exclusively for them. Democrats are doing it too. My problem with all of this is that legislators are focusing more on political positioning than they are on solving the real problems we have in the country. And we do have real problems; serious problems. And I assure you that these politicians who are preaching their own message of populism in the last 24 hours probably care little about actually solving the problems that we face. There are 45 million Americans without health insurance and far more without an actual source of health care. There are states with double digit unemployment. The stock market has tanked. We are still entrenched in a war in Iraq that we never should have started. And clinging to any gains made in Afghanistan. Our federal deficit is growing at an amazing rate, but more importantly the debt of consumers and small business is mounting and forcing many to close their doors. There is little liquidity in the credit market, which is further impacting every business in the U.S.

So yes, we have problems. Major problems. But the key is to start to fix these problems, to try to address them. We need serious people in Washington to do this. People who care more about the people than the posturing. We need people who care more about creating solutions than illustrating problems. And most importantly, we need people who are willing to put aside party politics to work to benefit all Americans. There are people like this. There are people who care about improving things, who care about rebuilding this country and restoring its image. I think its time that we listen to these people instead of the political posturing and the hypocritical attacks.

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