Last week, I was joined by a handful of my colleagues at a Senate Budget Committee hearing on strategies for reining in our exploding debt. United in our concern that Congress lacks the will to get our fiscal house in order, we mounted what I termed an "institutional insurrection."That's all well and good. Though I find it increasingly amusing that our elected legislators can't reach an agreement themselves and so need to outsource the really tough votes such as closing down military bases. I'm glad that Bayh and Conrad and Gregg want to change the typical operating procedure on Capitol Hill.
Our unsustainable debt is neither a Democratic nor a Republican problem. It is rooted in the DNA of both political parties. Some in Congress like to spend more than we can afford, and some like to cut taxes more than we can afford. The easy path is simply to borrow until the credit markets will no longer allow it.
This approach violates something fundamental in the American character. Every generation before us has been willing to make the tough decisions and hard sacrifices required to ensure our children and grandchildren inherit a better way of life and stronger country. Now, it is our turn.
The path of least resistance that we have trod for so long is the path to national weakness. If you have the same people and the same process, you are going to get the same results.
For this reason, I will vote "no" on raising the debt ceiling unless Congress adopts a credible process to balance our books and eliminate the red ink.
The proposal I am supporting with Sens. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, and Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, would create a new debt-fighting commission. Conventional wisdom in Washington is that commissions are something politicians create to defer hard decisions. But our bipartisan panel would put all options on the table, including spending cuts and revenue raisers. Congress would then be compelled by law to debate the recommendations and take an up-or-down vote on the entire plan.
However, will Evan Bayh and Kent Conrad vote for Harry Reid's mammoth health care bill? Or will they just pretend to accept the deceptive gimmicks in the bill that pretend that the bill won't bust the budget?
UPDATE: If Evan Bayh is so interested in the glories of bipartisanship, he should pay attention to Richard Benedetto's column in Politico yesterday. Benedetto pointed out that massive bills have never, until this year, been passed on a strict party-line vote.
In an interview shortly before his retirement in 2001, the late Sen. Pat Moynihan (D-N.Y.) issued a warning:The Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid, votes to go to war in Iraq both in the First Gulf War and the Second, plus No Child Left Behind: all those votes had bipartisan support. Not today.
“Never pass major legislation that affects most Americans without real bipartisan support. It opens the door to all kinds of political trouble.”
He said not only will the party that didn’t vote for it feel free to take shots at the resulting program whenever things go wrong, but also a large segment of the public will never accept it unless it is an overwhelming success. Every glitch will be magnified by a loud chorus of partisan opponents saying, “I told you so,” Moynihan said.
So what are Democrats planning to do? Ignore Moynihan’s warning and ram through health care reform as a basically one-party bill, which, under Moynihan’s thesis, is a prescription for trouble — big trouble — even if Democrats get one or two moderate Senate Republicans to go along. A lone Republican, Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, who represents a heavily Democratic district in New Orleans, voted for the measure in the House. So on the outside, health care reform could conceivably pass Congress with as few as one Republican vote, maybe two if someone from the Senate gets on board.
President Barack Obama likes to refer to many things he is doing in his first year in office as “unprecedented.” And while legislation passed on a party-line vote is not unprecedented, one would be hard-pressed to cite one piece of major legislation affecting most Americans that passed that way over the past half-century. Except for one: Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan, approved in February.
The sweeping health care reform bill as now drafted would, in practice, be an uncertainty at best, a debacle at worst. Democrats are trying to paint Republican refusal to get on board as obstructionism. Compromise, however, never appeared to be on the table. Therefore, success or failure, health care reform passed only by Democrats will forever be identified as a Democratic program, for better or for worse.
Given the political risks, it appears this is a gamble Democrats are willing to take. They see its success as cementing a Democratic majority of voters for decades to come. Failure could have the opposite effect. Republicans would be free to echo Moynihan and say, “We told you so.”