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Debt and deficit drama just beginning 04-15-2011

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Column by Jim Flynn

Democrats didn’t bother to pass a 2011 federal budget when they had control of both houses of Congress in 2010. The numbers were too embarrassing. The result has been a succession of continuing resolutions, presidential requests for more money as needed. That’s no way to run a lemonade stand, let alone a government.

The recent deadline drama in which Congress produced a $38 billion resolution to fund the federal government for the rest of 2011 will look like a sideshow when the 2012 budget and debt-limit war gets rolling.

Despite citizen concerns about the collapse of the economy, deficit spending, and a ballooning national debt, Congress declined President Obama’s request for a fiscal responsibility commission in 2010. At the last minute four House Republicans chickened out of their commitment to vote for a commission, probably out of fear they would not be invited to tea parties for the rest of their terms in Congress.

Clever politician that he is, President Obama seized the opportunity to appoint his own Fiscal Responsibility Commission. He wrung a public promise out of then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to bring the commission’s recommendations up for a vote if 14 of the 18 members agreed on a plan. That was good PR and smart politics. With 12 members of Congress on the panel, an agreement on a plan by 78 percent of the members was never likely.

After the 2010 elections, in which Tea Partiers ushered a cadre of debt and deficit reformers into Congress, President Obama offered up some milque-toast good will and smart politics when speaking about his Commission: “We’re going to have to make some tough choices,” he said. At the time he was in Korea on another leg of his first-term campaign tour of all nations.

Just a month later Mr. Obama didn’t attend the White House meeting to which his Fiscal Responsibility Commission was invited to present its recommendations. After meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Budget Director Jack Lew, the Commission’s report was referred to the shelf keeper in the dust department.

Republicans seized the day and brought forth a 2012 budget on the model suggested by the President’s Fiscal Responsibility Commission – smart politics and good PR. It’s referred to wishfully as the Pathway to Prosperity or the Ryan plan, after Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

In return for agreeing to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, the Republican House is attempting to leverage elimination of many overlapping programs, cancellation of hundreds of tax loopholes, reform of Medicare and Medicaid, and reduction of some defense spending even the Pentagon doesn’t want.

According to Treasury Secretary Geithner, some time between May 15 and July 15 Congress is going to have to authorize the government to borrow more than the $14.25 trillion the U.S. already owes.

The simple explanation of the fast approaching debt crisis is that the U.S. spends too much - $1 trillion too much in 2008, $1.9 trillion too much in 2009, $1.7 trillion too much in 2010, and $1.6 trillion too much this year.

Every federal program, every subsidy, and every tax loophole has advocates in Congress and among thousands of Washington lobbyists. Patriotic concern for the long-term state of the nation takes a back seat whenever anybody’s program, subsidy, or loophole is endangered. It’s a game of musical chairs, and we can no longer afford to keep buying chairs on the national credit card.

Stay tuned. The biggest budget and debt drama in U.S, history is just beginning.