Last night I watched CNN and FoxNews for a while. Both shows had panelists discussing the recent incident with the Nigerian terrorist on the Northwest/Delta flight to Detroit from Amsterdam. Panelists discussed the fact that the terrorist’s father reported his concerns about his son’s radical activities to officials from Yemen, the U.S. embassy in Abuja, and the Central Intelligence Agency and yet, he did not land on a “do not fly” list. I did not watch either of the shows to the end, primarily because the participants became engaged in partisan bickering that destroyed the sensibility of listening to both sides of the debate. The failure of the intelligence agencies to engage in coordinated reporting for this incident led to the heated, partisan discussion. Naturally, the discussion disintegrated when Republican participants stated that government workers are not disposed to working processes to perfection and that the same can be expected of the administration’s initiatives in healthcare and the cap and trade bill. Panelists representing the administration and/or the Democrats resorted to blaming George Bush for the failure of the Department of Homeland Security and the moderators seemed to relish in the chaos rather than trying to rein in the discussion.
I was never a student of public policy, but because of its impact to my employer and myself, I have to be more than a bystander. From my observations, it appears that healing and conciliation are no more than campaign promises from politicians on both sides of the aisle. The breakdown appears to be more severe on a national level than a state and local government level, but that might be caused by the fact that state and local governments are required to balance their fiscal budgets and the federal government is the only entity allowed to print money to pay its bills.
Fixing healthcare in the United States has been a goal of multiple administrations since the 1960’s. Unfortunately, the legislative fixes over the years were generally to add benefits (which would add votes from those receiving the benefits, primarily the elderly and the poor), decrease payments to providers (fewer voters impacted), and defer discussion of how to solve the impact of the Baby Boomer generation’s retirement on the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Medicaid was a mandated benefit requiring the states to pick up half the cost, but in the years of a booming economy and steadily increasing real estate taxes, the states grumbled more than shouted out in pain. This year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the Stimulus Act) provided states with funding to cover some of their expenses in Medicaid and education. The stimulus act was intended to be a short-term solution, allowing the states time to find ways to balance their budgets going forward.
As I write this, I don’t know what the final outcome of the healthcare bill will be. The Senate and the House have to reconcile their bills and there are members who state that they won’t agree to a bill without a public option and members who won’t agree to a bill with a public option. Some members like Nebraska’s Ben Nelson appear to have successfully negotiated for the sale of their vote. I wonder if that funding provision will stand and if Senator Nelson’s vote will continue to be yes if the funding is removed.
The purpose of this article is not to discuss politics or the merits of different proposals. I really wanted to discuss how important it is going to be for our elected and appointed government officials to engage in a rational discussion of all of the pros and cons of legislation and not just the party line. Our national debt is at an all time high. The war on terror continues and the costs of funding it are substantially America’s. Our military service members and many other public servants provide an invaluable service protecting our freedoms and our safety every day, 365 days a year, and their activities are independent of which political party controls the White House. The Stimulus Act funding is going away and many states are still working on ways to cut their projected deficits. Real estate values have decreased by approximately 20 percent nationwide. Passage of the healthcare bill is bound to increase costs. Cap and trade is another pending bill that will increase costs for some companies and consumers as well as decrease tax revenues to coal-producing states. Publicly-funded higher education is also under funding stress in many states. At some point, the citizens of our country have to pay for the costs of all of these initiatives. Increasing taxes is inevitable, but tax increases can negatively impact the economy as well.
Most Americans manage their household expenses through a system of prioritization. If incoming funds are expected to be lower this year, we know we can’t buy a new car or take a vacation to Disney World. Sometimes, we work out compromises on the budget and buy a used car instead of a new car and take a vacation to the local beach or mountains versus flying to a more exotic locale. For-profit and non-profit businesses have to do the same. Because of laws requiring balanced budgets, most state and local legislative bodies have to engage in a process like this as well. My New Year’s wish would be that our nationally-elected officials cool the rhetoric, discuss the issues, and prioritize their votes for the future of America. A quick solution to generate votes for next year’s election is wrong if it mortgages the future for generations to come.