By Arlen Specter
The loss of the U.S. AAA bond rating should be more than a wake-up call – it’s an alarm. With a dow falling 634 points as a result of Standard & Poor’s downgrade, there is no doubt about the serious impact on our economy. Combined with what is happening in Europe, responsive action is imperative.
The drop dead date of August 2nd to raise the debt ceiling was supposed to provide the pressure for Washington to restructure the government’s balance sheet, deal effectively with the deficit and stop the spiraling national debt. It did none of the above.
Early negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner looked promising with the inclusion of $1 trillion in additional revenue plus a plan to deal with entitlements. That “grand bargain” disintegrated in the face of a rebellious House Republican Caucus inspired by the Tea Party’s determination to carry out the campaign promise of no compromise. Such a position is unheard of and destructive of the basic premise of the legislative process in a democracy. Hearings, floor debate, negotiation and ultimately compromise are the essence of governance.
The United States was founded on compromise. The major battle at the Constitutional Convention involved the clash between big states and small states on representation in Congress. The small states won equality in the Senate; the big states would dominate the House based on population. Throughout our nation’s history, the resolution of legislative battles between the House and the Senate comes in reconciliation in the bicameral conference committee through compromise.
Standard & Poor was blunt about the drop in the U.S. credit rating. It was due to the gridlock in Congress resulting in a dysfunctional government.
There is no doubt that additional revenues are indispensible in restructuring the government’s balance sheet. Speaker Boehner recognized that. The numbers just don’t add up with only cuts in expenditures no matter how severely entitlements are reduced. The answer lies in shared sacrifice with reductions in spending and additions in revenues.
Congress just kicked the can down the road in setting up a twelve person House-Senate Committee, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, to resolve the problem. Republicans have already passionately announced increased revenues are off the table. Democrats have vociferously disagreed. The special committee is headed for a six to six deadlock with no solution.
Now it is up to the voters or non-voters. Republicans were punished in the 2008 election, the Democrats in 2010. The prospects are that all incumbents will be at risk in 2012 in the face of widespread popular disgust with the way that Washington operates. In 2010, the current Congress was elected with 90,682,968 voting out of 235,809,266 eligible for 37.8%. The non-voters have allowed the zealots to dominate the Congress and control the political process. It is time for the silent majority, the non-voters, to take charge.