‘No’ Leads Nowhere

Published Jan 2, 2013. By Editorial Board.

Here’s a New Year’s resolution for Congress that should be easy: Tackle the obvious problems first — the ones with solutions so readily apparent that only those blinded by political gamesmanship could fail to see them.

OK, the problem there is obvious, too: A large number of representatives and senators are blinded by political gamesmanship. That’s why obvious solutions are ignored, year after year, in favor of partisan posturing that solves nothing.

Take two examples: the nation’s absurdly overgrown income-tax code, and the need to balance spending and income.

Democrats and Republicans know that the tax code is a nearly 74,000-page mess. They know that it’s unequally applied and unfair — that it contains countless loopholes allowing the savvy and connected to avoid taxes while others pay through the nose.

They both know that a revised tax code, designed to make taxes simpler and fairer, rather than to placate special interests, could work wonders.

They even agree on some approaches; both think the corporate tax rate is too high and that eliminating loopholes could generate more revenue, helping reduce the deficit.

But the areas of disagreement — how much to lower the corporate rate, who should bear the brunt of any tax increase and which loopholes to close, among many others — stand in the way.

The essence of Congress’ purpose is to achieve compromise in order to govern a diverse nation. Yet members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have come to view compromise as defeat, so deals can’t be made.

Without the willingness to compromise, tax reform remains elusive, and all Americans lose.

Congress’ deadlock could be eased by better leadership from President Barack Obama. A leader finds ways to work with those who oppose him. Obama, who came to executive office with no executive experience, rules out negotiation and instead delivers ultimatums, fostering intransigence rather than softening it.

The tale is similar regarding an even-more-critical issue — tackling the nation’s deficit, fueled in huge part by the mushrooming cost of entitlements. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare consume about 60 percent of the federal budget, and costs are growing at unsustainable rates.

What’s needed is an overall plan to bring spending under control and to balance the budget.

Instead, every torturous budget deal cobbled together in recent years has left entitlements untouched, nibbling away instead at the relatively meager discretionary portion of the federal budget. That’s because most Democrats flatly refuse to consider adjustments to entitlements, while Republicans balk at any tax increases.

Ohio’s Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are pushing bills that would raise Social Security payments to many recipients by $70 per month — a suggestion seriously out of touch with the dire budget realities faced by the U.S.

The next presidential election could make the situation worse, if Republican candidates continue to preach the gospel of no tax increases and Democrats continue to peddle the fantasy that entitlement programs don’t have to change.

Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan think tank that advocates for lower deficits, described such a scenario in stark terms: “This is a very dangerous recipe.” He’s right.