Wanted: Thick-Skinned Lawmakers

Published Aug 17, 2014. In Salisbury Post (N.C.).

Something has bugged Food Lion cofounder Ralph Ketner for a long time. Why does every intersection with traffic signals have at least two signal heads hanging from a cable or metal arm?

In many cases, Ketner says, one would suffice.

Ketner sought an answer to his question from Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson, then N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory. He said he eventually learned the U.S. Department of Transportation requires two stoplights at every intersection, and the explanation he received was in case one of the signal heads malfunctioned, the other one would still be available.

With that way of thinking — and government spending — “they ought to build two bridges, in case one goes out,” Ketner said.

Ketner was among the people taking part last Monday in an exercise every American voter should go through. U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx’s office brought in The Concord Coalition to facilitate a free workshop in which participants took their shots at reducing the federal deficit and fixing “mandatory” programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

If anything, as Post columnist Mark Wineka discovered, the exercise proved that Congress could balance the budget and make substantial dents in the federal deficit.

But lawmakers could only accomplish these objectives if they were willing to face the wrath of virtually every facet of society they would offend.

More and more, it’s obvious real fiscal reform in the United States won’t happen until lawmakers are no longer beholden to all of the special-interest money flooding into their campaign coffers.

Likewise, the longer Congress takes in seriously addressing the national debt and budget deficits, the more term limits for House and Senate members appear to be the only answer. Today, the No. 1 priority among lawmakers is getting elected, then being re-elected. Prohibit the special-interest money and remove the need for each lawmaker to be in a campaign mode at all times, you might attract candidates willing to make hard choices on tax reform, military spending, health care and what the federal government’s priorities should be.

The $17.7 trillion national debt keeps growing. The country can’t keep supporting that debt while also running yearly budget deficits. Social Security cannot sustain itself as it is currently set up. Medicare is an open-ended program for which limits have to be imposed.

We’re heading into another election where the stakes are high. You’ll hear candidates promise to make hard choices on spending and tackle huge reforms. They always do.

But will they again give us two bridges instead of one?