Republicans are critical of President Barack Obama for not doing enough to to reduce government spending, namely not looking seriously at costly entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Democrats in Congress accuse Republicans of putting military spending off-limits to cost-cutting talks.
Both are right, but neither party has had the guts to seriously tackle either problem for decades, leading to the current budget problems that have heated up rhetoric in Washington but not moved Congress any closer to seriously discussing — let alone doing anything about — the ballooning federal deficit.
Before this week’s recess, Congress passed another continuing resolution — a measure to fund the government in the short term. This is the sixth continuing resolution since December 2010. The resolution will keep the government funded and operational for three weeks, at which time lawmakers likely will adopt another CR because they will be nowhere near addressing real budget problems.
Both parties agreed that serious talks about the future of federal spending and the deficit should begin after the resolution is passed. They disagree, however, on what spending realms should be a priority. This can’t be allowed to sidetrack this overdue work.
“I’m stunned at the president’s passivity and lack of apparent willingness to realize this is an opportunity to do something important for the country,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Wall Street Journal before last week’s CR vote.
That opportunity entails reining in the debt through changes to Medicare and Social Security.
Sen. McConnell noted that the last overhaul of Social Security was accomplished by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 — just before he was resoundingly re-elected.
“Whoever down at the White House is advising him that this is [politically] dangerous may have missed the fact that Reagan carried 49 out of 50 states in 1984,” the Republican leader told the Journal.
To tackle something as complicated and contentious as Social Security, however, members of Congress must be committed to working together and focusing on real problems, not bogeymen.
The fact that members of the House recently spent more time debating withdrawing funding for public radio than dealing with the costs of the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan (which annually costs 24,000 times what the lawmakers voted to take from NPR) doesn’t bode well for this type of work.