The Hard Consequences of Do Nothing

At different times in American history, the Do Nothing label has been stuck to Republican politicians and even the entire party. Like the time, way back in the day, when Woodrow Wilson glued it on President Taft and his administration. The most famous use of the term was by Harry Truman in his successful campaign against Thomas Dewey in the 1948 presidential race. The phrase helped to keep “Give ‘Em Hell Harry” in the White House confounding all political predictions. More recently, Do Nothing has been pasted, wrongly, on the Republican members of the 112th Congress and, rightly, on Mitt Romney, the presidential wannabe.

In the past, Do Nothing was a pejorative, a brand to be avoided. After all, politicians who sat around doing nothing were worse than leeches on the body politic. But in today’s political culture, it is a strategy to be cultivated, a way to get your way risk free. No one exemplifies the new thinking better than Harry Reid. Not that Do Nothing is his entire game plan. The whirlwind of legislation he helped to push through the 111th Congress made the country’s head spin. Without question, he’s a bona fide dynamo when it comes to expanding government.

But, when it comes to paying the piper for all the cool new stuff, Harry is strictly Do Nothing. The Senate Majority Leader has ducked every opportunity to develop a detailed proposal to address the national debt. The last time his Senate even offered an annual budget was in March 2009 when the red ink was a demure $10 trillion. By the end of this year, it will tip the scale at almost $15 trillion.

How did it grow so big so fast? In the year of our last budget, the deficit, at $1.4 trillion, was the largest since 1945. 2010’s $1.3 trillion operating loss was the second largest in the same time period. According to White House numbers, the 2011 deficit will come in at $1.6 trillion, the largest in U.S. history. To put this into sharper focus, on only four occasions has the deficit breached 10 percent of GDP, during three wars and now.

With the debt rising like a surging tide, why has there been no budgets to stem it? These days, budgets require difficult choices with high degrees of political risk. To the politically driven, preaching from the Book of Platitudes is infinitely more preferable than thinning sacred cow herds. Kicking the can down the road beyond the next election is definitely the way to go. So, when absolutely pressed, Do Nothings choose to grandstand down to the wire, then erect a labyrinth of smoke and mirrors and declare victory.

Where does this leave us?  Pretty much left out. The ridiculous debt ceiling agreement just inked by Obama is a perfect example. The many commentators currently mired in the weeds of speculation about the political winners and losers of the deal are missing the big picture. First, there’s so little substance to the terms of the agreement that it’s no deal at all. Second, we’re all losers. The whole episode is an international embarrassment to the people of this country. Rather than coming to grips with a crippling debt of their own creation, our politicians brought us to the brink of disaster with political posturing. And in their wake, the only thing that changed is the growing crisis.

Why don’t the Republicans, and specifically the Tea Partiers, deserve the blame here as well? For starters, they have offered several plans for dealing with the debt. Granted, each of them is flawed, but the Democrats refused either to open negotiations or counter with equally detailed versions. More than that, if it weren’t for the unseemly behavior of Reid’s Party and their monster pieces of legislation, there wouldn’t be a Tea Party. The baggers are a response to what’s wrong with the current bunch of ruling Democrats.

During last fall’s Lame Duck Congress, Reid refused to raise the debt limit even though he had the votes to extend it into 2013. His motivation was purely political. He wanted Republicans to “have some kind of a buy-in on the debt”, which is double talk for taking some of the blame. Of course, that wasn’t his approach twelve months earlier when the Democrat-controlled Congress upped the limit on a strictly partisan vote. But, back then, Republicans were effectively without power, putting them out of blame’s reach as well. So, they weren’t much use to the Senate Majority Leader.

Will the debt crisis ever be solved? Not by the Do Nothings. Small people create big problems, but they rarely solve them. It’s time to elect some big people for a change.

See you on the left-side.