Penny for your thoughts

Posted: Dec 28, 2008 12:00 AM
Penny for your thoughts

A difficult year lies ahead. The country is not only broke, it is deeply mired in debt. Major companies have gone belly-up, and have been bailed out . . . or not. Credit is tight. Go figure.

Our federal government remains committed to borrowing or printing about $7.7 trillion dollars to hide reality from us, but we still know. We’re in trouble.

We also ought to know that after this initial orgy of spending is over, Barack Obama and the Congress are not going to cut spending back. Nor will the federal government become thrifty and accountable. At least, not by design.

Moreover, regarding our debt, when Social Security, Medicare, unfunded worker pensions and other commitments are included, the burden upon us swells to outrageous proportions. Many of the chickens are already on their way home, in anticipation of roosting. Social Security goes from the black into the red in 2017.

Or, with a depression in between now and then, that “then” may be sooner than predicted.

As an optimist, I know we can solve these problems. We can make adjustments to prepare for future commitments. We could, that is, if we were dealing with reasonably sensible people. We’re not. We’re dealing with politicians.

We the people are effectively out of the loop. Politicians don’t listen to us. Especially at the federal level.

Witness the pay raise that congressmen of both parties have nabbed — by not voting on it. (The cost of living adjustment is automatic, unless Congress says otherwise.) After hitting all-time lows in public approval ratings and regulating up the largest fiscal mess since the Great Depression, our congressmen are raising their own pay beginning in January. With CEOs schlepping up to Congress pledging to take one buck a year, members of Congress will make $174,000. Majority and minority leaders in both houses make even more, $188,100 per year; Nancy Pelosi makes nearly $30,000 more than that.

Now, I don’t begrudge people who make a ton of money. Or even several tons. But yes, I begrudge congressmen the salaries we pay. Not the dollar figure, no; it’s the fact that we are not getting what we pay for. We are not being well served.

The current Congress spent an extra $700,000,000,000, in broad daylight, to supposedly bail out the mortgage industry — or whatever — even though 70 percent of Americans opposed such a bailout. Why would we not expect them to ignore the public’s anger at taking a pay raise?

The federal government is out of control. None of those in a position of power are serious about reforming government. Not congressional Democrats. Not congressional Republicans.

And not Barack Obama. We heard a lot about “change” from the incoming administration, but Mr. Obama has quite clearly repeated the “old wisdom”: Spend big now, cut back later. If he cannot break that old vice — the vice that got us into this mess — why expect any new virtue?

Worst of all, there is no process for citizens to stand effectively against this Leviathan. Not like there is, anyway, in the 24 states and majority of U.S. localities with some process for voter initiative.

Through the initiative, mere citizens have sparked tax revolts, capped government spending, imposed term limits, blocked land grabs, and protected equal rights. Of course, misguided measures have passed, too. This only highlights the obvious: It is not that we always trust the wisdom of the voters, it’s just that we can trust them a whole lot more than we can trust politicians.

Some day, hopefully before pigs fly, we will have a sensible initiative process to block Washington waste and enact meaningful reforms. Fortunately, that day may be sooner than we think. A newly elected congressman from Colorado, Jared Polis, a very progressive Democrat, has pledged to introduce legislation in the new Congress to establish just such a national system.

Polis’s proposal has not yet been filed. It is likely to be mild, a first toe in the water. But it will most certainly go nowhere in Congress. You can bet on that. It threatens everything Washington has come to stand for.

Nevertheless, if we want Washington to stand for something else — say, fiscal prudence, political accountability, and legislative responsibility — it may be the start of something important, something with a chance of bailing out our now-failing government. 

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