F(r)ight Zone Ahead

Over this past weekend the federal budget drama ended with an hour to spare ahead of a threatened shutdown. Congress passed a continuing resolution to keep funding operations after a deal was cut to reduce the remaining 2011 budget by $38 billion, while taking several social issues off the table demanded by conservatives.

The story was covered like a natural disaster with hourly updates and frequent progress reports. Realistically, it was only the prelude to a larger fight looming over the 2012 budget and the necessity of raising the federal debt ceiling in the weeks ahead. Now comes the frightening part.

There is an old saying that in war, the first casualty is the truth. Remember that line as the rhetoric turns up around both the 2012 budget and the debt ceiling.

I will stipulate the following points:

a. Our federal debt is too high, and should be lowered dramatically over time.

b. Our federal spending is too high, and should responsibly be cut back to a sustainable level that meet the needs of a consensus of Americans about the society they want to live in.

c. Entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are hallmarks of one of the world’s most progressive societies, but frankly, need to be reworked in light of unsustainable commitments that will make them unbearable to future generations.

But prepare for the budget fight ahead to be one of ideology rather than numbers. Two points mark my interpretation of the conservative’s fight to lower federal spending:

  1. The continued eighty-year old fight to eliminate social security, and the medical benefit entitlements that followed (Medicare & Medicaid), which provide a safety net of health care and retirement income to the elderly and poor; and
  2. Continuing choking off the federal government through more tax cuts for higher income Americans, and enlarging the wealth gap to worse proportions.

It is as simple as this: the code words smaller government really means we don’t want to contribute a dime toward the common welfare of our countrymen.

Other social disputes always loom in the background, especially abortion rights and federal funding for private schools. These and others will be added to the fight as dozens of amendments to cloud the debate, and feign compromise at the notion of dropping the most ridiculous of them, as the battle continues.

And all the way, listen for frightful stories about the damage done by the federal deficit and debt, about the loss of jobs, loss of competiveness, loss of the American dream….. all so that one more hedge fund manager might lower his tax bill enough to afford a second yacht.

Very telling though is to examine where the debt came from. The fact is that more federal debt was piled up (as a percentage of debt and as actual dollars) under the Reagan and Bush II administrations than all the others. You won’t hear about that in this debate.

The campaign slogan of the McCain-Palin run for presidency keeps echoing in my head…country first. Whatever happened to that notion?

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