This leadership weakness is found in the shocking number of elected officials who care little if any about the overall good of our nation and could not lead themselves out of a paper bag. In crises like the magnitude of the recent hurricanes, this lack of leadership is accentuated by finger pointing, indecisiveness, bad ideas and doing absolutely nothing. As a result, the citizens are receiving from many in Congress a collective leadership-to-nowhere.
Consider Senator Max Baucus’ (D-MT) response to his own constituency’s offer to help pay for hurricane relief by returning the $4 million he secured for a parking lot in Bozeman. Senator Baucus stated that he “can not and will not support giving away these hard-fought dollars.” That’s code for “I fought for this pork, and I’m going to keep it.”
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) leads the parade of bad ideas. She believes we can tax our way out of crises. When asked where the money should come from to pay for reconstruction efforts she stated, “It comes from the first instance in not making those tax cuts for rich people like us permanent.” Senator Clinton, thanks to your book deal you and Bill are in the top 1% of income earners. Making those tax cuts permanent would help the 99% of us benefiting from an economy that is working.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) answer is the same for every crisis we face – “No.” “No” to a commission to investigate and improve federal, state and local disaster response practices. “No” to making the 2003 tax cuts permanent so the economy can continue its positive growth and expansion. “No” to even discussing restructuring Social Security with optional personal retirement accounts, all the while offering “No” new ideas of her own to fix our coming economic crises. Her trumpet of “No” leads the parade of leadership to nowhere.
Unfortunately, the Republicans are just as leaderless on spending offsets. The Bush administration and Republican Congressional leaders have balked at even considering delaying for just one year the ill-conceived and ill-crafted Medicare prescription drug bill. The projected cost of the drug bill, which goes into effect in 2006, has climbed to $730 billion over just a ten year period.
I am now convinced more than ever of the truth in former Congressman J.C. Watts’ assessment of the leadership vacuum in Washington, D.C. Namely, seventy percent of our elected officials in Congress are just happy to be there. They are not leading, can not solve problems and yet remain fiercely protective of their pork and their power.
However, not all members of Congress are devoid of the ability to lead in times of catastrophic natural disasters and looming fiscal crises. Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) and members of the Republican Study Committee recently offered House leaders a slate of programs that should be delayed or cut to offset the billions Congress is expected to spend on rebuilding the Gulf. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John McCain (R-AZ) have offered a similar plan to their colleagues.
These efforts have so far been met with a “how-dare-you-cut-my-pork projects” attitude by fellow Republicans who ran for reelection in the past on platforms of fiscal responsibility. We should not wonder why Congressional Democrats choose to remain silent and offer no common sense solutions of their own. They have no incentive to offer solutions as long as the Republicans are fighting amongst themselves and behaving like the free-spending Democrats they demonize every election year.
I can accept in concept congressional approval of the initial $63 billion outlay for hurricane recovery, as well as the generous package of tax relief for hurricane victims. But the quick approval of taxpayer dollars should have been accompanied by a quick identification of which agency will be held accountable for spending our dollars on the proper projects to rebuild infrastructure. Those decisions should have been made concurrently, but we the people instead received the usual congressional knee-jerk, kum-bay-ya reaction of write checks first, ask questions later.
As citizens of this great nation we have a responsibility to challenge our elected officials in Congress to show fiscal leadership instead of cowering in the face of crisis and merely throwing money at problems. Members of both parties must be made to realize that voters are not as dumb as they think. We need leaders, not political opportunists and obstructionists.
The recent hurricane disasters in the Gulf region have exposed one of our greatest weaknesses in an otherwise great country. That weakness is a deficiency of leadership. We must demand better leadership and we can not wait until Election Day.