Sunday, July 31, 2011

What now? Game on.

I won't rehash what's wrong with the reported debt ceiling deal. I will add a bit of perspective, however.

We all know that we have a debt problem largely because of irresponsible Republican spending-- King Ronnie got us started down this road and those of us who are old enough remember the Republican mantra-- "Deficits don't matter-- it's the percentage of GDP that matters." Bill Clinton reversed the tide only to have Dubya embrace deficit spending with gusto, running up the debt to the point that when we really had an economic downturn that required significant deficit spending (including a sizable stimulus), there was less stomach for it. This is what Obama walked into. So, yes, despite the media's effort to find "balance" in the blame, the national debt is largely a Republican creation.

But even Obama's budgets show huge structural deficits without end. And, hastened by the crisis created by the Republicans, credit rating agencies are threatening to lower the USA's AAA rating which would have a significant impact on working class and middle class Americans. This is a reality that the President must address. We may not like the outlines of this proposed deal, but if it is what we are facing, what now?

Progressives are understandably concerned about any trigger that cuts entitlements. So are most Americans. The narrative created by the purported deal favors the Democratic position on this issue-- either significantly cut Defense, or popular entitlement programs are slashed. Americans haven't demanded that Defense be cut because they've never been presented with a necessary choice-- most Americans have reflexively supported excessive Defense spending without having to really engage on the issue of whether it is needed or wise. This has played into Republican fearmongering about the "war on terror" and fueled the military industrial complex. Now, average Americans are going to finally be presented with an "either/or." What side do you think they will come down on?

Most Americans are already sick of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Most Americans can't see the necessity in keeping expensive military bases all over the world. Most Americans, when faced with a forced choice, would rather be investing in this country's infrastructure. This proposed deal will draw clear lines-- Democrats are fighting to protect the entitlements that Americans have paid into all their lives and Republicans are fighting to slash them. Look at the budget. Where's the money? Entitlements and Defense. Which is most bloated? This proposal forces the first real debate of our Defense budget in decades.

This debate will also sharpen the focus on revenues-- most Americans expect the wealthy to pay more. The Republicans will find themselves on the losing end of another issue that will define them for years to come.

This deal also focuses the debate on who Republicans care about-- and who they don't. While the Teajadists may be beyond concerns over their re-election prospects, many Republicans will not be immune from feeling the heat. Let's apply it.

We can look at this proposal as a defeat, or we can look at it as an opportunity to finally get the focused attention of many Americans who often don't engage on political issues, or when they do, focus on issues that do not advance their interest. This will be an epic battle. We may not like the terms of the game, but if it must be played, then game on.