Stop Playing Games and Govern

Watching this whole debt ceiling spectacle is a trial for me. I want to tell the Republicans, “Stop playing games that stymie every Democratic offer and initiative and do your patriotic duty: compromise for the good of the nation.” And I want to tell the Democrats, “Don’t give away the house while negotiating, and stand firm on raising revenue.” I’m for ending the Bush tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, which I consider a no brainer, since they are the ones who benefited most by the Bush tax cuts.

But I am bothered by the whole simplistic “we took the pledge” mentality on the right, and the mantras of the Tea Party, which have stifled virtually every moderate Republican who still holds office. (Remember the two women from Maine?)  I want someone to say a few obvious but, in this current climate, contrarian things about government. So here goes:


 1. Small government, of itself, is not a goal worth seeking. You won’t find a right to small government in the Constitution, nor did the founding fathers, if that is the authority that matters most to you, insist on it. No, the goal of our constitutional republic is good government—just government by and for a free people; government run by majority rule. If government needs to expand in order to accomplish the common good, then it should. If, on the other hand, government grows so big that its size hinders the lawmaking and oversight that is its purpose, then it can go on a diet. Whether that latter scenario has in fact happened may be a matter for dialogue, but my point is that “good government,” not small government ought to be the goal.

 2. Taxation is not immoral or malevolent, but rather is a means to good government. Taxes are mentioned in the Constitution. And taxes are malleable; they can be kept stable, or cut or raised. The government should use discretion about when to keep, cut or raise taxes.

The notion that raising taxes is anathema is preposterous. If the U.S. or an ally were invaded and military assistance were called for over a sustained period of time (Think: Vietnam; S. Korea; Europe during World War II), what would the Tea Partiers do? Why should federal services and protections be cut or jeopardized—schools closed, workers fired, bridges unrepaired—when taxes to support the military could be raised? Or what if a major disaster took place or an epidemic broke out requiring an enormous and sustained increase in public health care? What cuts should be made to pay for that? These examples are undoubtedly extreme, but testing the thesis.

Let me try something more realistic: What about a huge and growing federal deficit that could over time threaten the economic well being of our nation? The Tea Partiers apparently find the deficit horrendous enough to pre-empt many other national concerns—like job creation, affordable health coverage for all Americans, immigration reform and so on. Why isn’t deficit reduction then worthy of any tax increase? Even on, say, the wealthiest individuals who own more than half the individually held assets of this country? Ruling out any tax increase is pure nonsense. My point is that tax hikes are an ordinary tool of a democratic government and should be used when needed.

3. Voters should view tax rebates and tax cuts as a form of federal spending. Why? Because they function just like other government “giveaways” in terms of their effect on the economy, the federal budget, future tax needs and the federal deficit. Consider that between 2002 and 2009, the Bush administration cut taxes totaling some $1,812 billion. His government chose to forego revenue collection, which could have been applied then to the federal deficit. Instead that deficit grew under President Bush throughout his 8 years in office. Rather than spend down the deficit, nipping it in the bud, Mr. Bush “spent” those billions on a popular form of stimulus, which contributed greatly to the deficit’s growth over time.

4. Compromise is not a bad word, but is vital to good governance. It is not per se a violation of one’s principles, but rather a recognition of the fact that voters have elected a body of representatives with diverse viewpoints. In our two-party system, bipartisanship is both essential and patriotic. For lawmakers are elected to serve all of the people, not only their particular constituents nor only, God forbid, their donors. It is a disservice for any one party (or group) to spend all of their time and energy knocking down the work of other elected legislators. Doing nothing but setting up obstacles until the next election, which is not an unfair description of the Republicans in the House since Mr. Obama was elected, is not to be confused with real governance. I think the American people should be up in arms about all these unnecessary and unpatriotic Republican roadblocks.

5. What this country needs right now is jobs. The best minds we have ought to be figuring out how to create jobs quickly, especially jobs that equip society for the future: jobs that promote conservation and alternative energy, publish transportation, health care, even teaching English. A summer jobs program for unemployed young people, especially those who are unable to sit out the recession in college or graduate school, would have been a real help to thousands of families, but the fever to reduce the deficit and cut spending prevented any such proposal. For the sake of the millions of unemployed, both parties should put their heads together to create jobs. Regardless of what happens about the deficit, if Mr. Obama fails to create jobs, he will likely lose the presidency. The political irony is that if he were to lose his job, it is hard to believe that any Republican who replaces him would either create jobs or work to protect the health and wealth of the middle class as well as President Obama has.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
7 years 5 months ago
I would just say in response that the Republican party was restored to the majority in the House by the largest number in the last 60 something years with the votes not only of registered Republicans, but something like a 20-point advantage among Independent voters, indeed many of the same voters who a mere 3 years ago voted for Pres. Obama.  These Republicans ran on the (dare I use the word) pledge of (A) opposing tax increases and (B) cutting spending.  So what you see and castigate as their game playing, one can look at and see as them standing on the platform that they very frankly and openly campaigned on.  Indeed, it is the President that is also unwilling to compromise on taxes, as he and his party FAILED to let the Bush tax cuts expire when they enjoyed the majority of BOTH houses of Congress, in addition to the White House.  You castigate Republicans for not compromising; where is the President's WRITTEN plan?  He produced a budget that would ADD trillions to the debt, a budget his own party in the Senate has REFUSED to bring to a vote; indeed the Democrats in the Senate have refused to bring a vote on any budget plan for something like 800 days.  To this day, we have not seen a single written proposal from the President on what his entitlement spending reforsm actually ARE.

What you see as a failure (primarily by Republicans - shocker there) at fulfilling the principles of the founders, I see as the FULFILLMENT of that vision.  As George Will has so eloquently stated, what the Founders feared most (perhaps more than big government) was EFFICIENT government - they created this nasty beast called separation of powers in order to stymy the kinds of inside the beltway "Grand Bargains" that we are told constantly are needed - mainly by the President so he can be re-elected.  This is, in short, exactly what the government was designed to be.  We don't have, as you assert, "majority rule."

Suffice it to say, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
John Barbieri
7 years 5 months ago
Jeff Landry states it very well!
7 years 5 months ago
The arrogance and self righteouness of this post is amazing.  It assumes that the author knows better and those she criticizes are some how her moral inferiors.  Otherwise why would they be doing what they are and not doing what the author recommends.  But the post is based on ignorance which is often due to a blindness that accompanies self righteousness.

Everything recommend is anti social justice.  Everything recommend will hurt the poor.  I suggest the author learn basic economics and not distort what is happening.  As a starter here is the deficit trend that started when the Democrats took over congress.  Their first budget was the one that happened in 2008.  Notice a trend.

Jobs are created by business and the best thing that could be done by government is to make the climate right for creating jobs.  Repeal Obamacare and the Dodd Frank bill, repeal other onerous regulations and business will see a more stable future and be willing to invest in new areas which will put people to work.  Instead the Democrats have imposed a straight jacket on business and they are instead taking their money and going outside the country with their investments because the business climate is friendler there.  The Democrats are repeating all the mistakes of the Great Depression where they favor a few at the cost of the many and especially the poor.

So what is recommended in this post is definitely anti Catholic because it will hurt the poor.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 5 months ago
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 5 months ago
I love the passion and reason in your post, Karen Sue.  It echoes my sentiments well, but you said it all so much better than I could have.  I feel some relief in your getting this out on the table as you have.  Thank you.
Vince Killoran
7 years 5 months ago
The "original intent" of the Founders was that they didn't have an "original intent."
ed gleason
7 years 5 months ago
GOP/TP won House seats in Nov.2010 campaigning on health care. No TP ever mentioned debt limit in campaign. THEY STUMBLED ON THIS HOSTAGE TAKING OF THE DEBT after the election. Not raising the debt limit will hurt the Wall Street greedos the most though.. Market plunge and Treasuries decline will not hurt the poor as they have no "market investments and no Treasuries, Two weeks of crisis will force the TP/GOP to vote to end the crisis and the poor will receive their checks. We have a 2012 election to sought out the long term debt. Getting the hedge fund managers to even pay taxes at 35% like everyone else will be a big step. They pay at 15% capital gains and laugh at the Conservative  posters here that pay at 35%. Hedge guys and they are all guys,  like the GOP candidates who want  capital gains to go to zero. . Then they pay nothing. They also encourage their children to sign up for additional tours in Iraq and Afghanistan [NOT]  What say you TP/GOP posters to no capital gains tax. I'm all for non-violent class war so please don't say so.
7 years 5 months ago
From Wikipedia,

''The Tea Party movement (TPM) is an American populist political movement that is generally recognized as conservative and libertarian, and has sponsored protests and supported political candidates since 2009. It endorses reduced government spending, opposition to taxation in varying degrees, reduction of the national debt and federal budget deficit, and adherence to an originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution.The name ''Tea Party'' is a reference to the Boston Tea Party, a protest by colonists who objected to a British tax on tea in 1773 and demonstrated by dumping British tea taken from docked ships into the harbor. Some commentators have referred to the Tea in ''Tea Party'' as the ackronym ''Taxed Enough Already''.

Most of the big rallies for the Tea Party take place on April 15th which is tax day.  They are for small government and lower taxes which means that they have always protested the rising size of government.  Obamacare was another large intrusion into the private sector by the government with lots of costly mandates which the govenment now say are taxes but came well after when the Tea Party groups were forming.  So Obamacare was just a small part of what the Tea Party was about.  

I have been to a couple Tea Party things and it was mainly about taxes and government regulations.  Very nice people who would have your back in any hostility so I would not worry about the Tea Party and a true national emergency.  And they consider the rising national debt a true national emergency just as was 9/11, World War II and a lot of other foreign threats.  So let's not distort anything please.
7 years 5 months ago

Capital Gains tax cuts is the main thing that led to the budget surpluses in the late 90's.  Of course cutting them to 0% would bring in nothing.  The only value in that is it might lead to investment in something that would produce jobs.  That is the theory.  But obviously this does not work this way for all as many just invest in financial instruments.  If it was invested in new non financial areas then I would recommend sending it to 0% because that would produce millions of jobs and the tax revenues would soar.
I have in the past supported the VC's but even a few of these have learnt how to thwart the system.  Their money has produced more jobs than anything in the last 30 years.  Giving the money to the government does nothing for the jobs problem, it exacerbates it.
7 years 5 months ago
I wrote this earlier, but it disappeared for some reason:

Thanks, Jeff, for your comment. It is true, as you say, that Republicans won the House handily and at least some new members campaigned on their pledges. But misleading charges against the health care law won the day.

What most struck me in what you wrote is about the Democrats’ not allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2009 when they came before Congress. President Obama did not want to extend the cuts for the top tier of earners at first. But in a compromise, the Democrats went ahead and extended all the cuts for two years. The president went with it, another compromise on taxes.  In these ongoing deficit debates it is again Mr. Obama and the Dems who have bent over backward to make budget cuts (Reid's proposal is written), but the Republicans have made no compromise on taxes. That’s the game playing I’m against.

The reason I argue for considering tax cuts as federal spending is this: the result is the same in terms of the economy, future tax needs, and the deficit. To see an excellent chart that makes this point, see James Fallows' article in the Atlantic:
7 years 5 months ago
As the deadline draws near, the posts become (including Mr. Cosgrove's) more arrogant and self righteous to borrow his phrase.
We have lost our sense of real civil discourse in the toxicity of the continuing split ideologicaly.
The America's Editors comments and Fr. Kavanagh's reflections are excellent.
But that won't touch those dug in  in the intransigence of no compromise.
7 years 5 months ago
I agree with Karen Sue Smith that Bush spent too much money.  I agree with her that the politicians are playing games.  I disagree with her in that I would like them to have less money with which to play!

Theoretically utopia looks great.  Its just that it dose not work when you are spending someone else's money.

I know America Magazine has no love for Milton Friedman but his video on spending money is absolutely true none-the-less.
isabelle andrews
7 years 5 months ago
I highly recommend that readers go to the Commonweal blog for the article "Fiscal Bulima". After reading Congressman Boehner"s quote, continue to the eye-opening graph. Wow!
7 years 5 months ago

''Why do you make assumptions about my views when you do not know them in fact?''
By endorsing one approach and distorting what they have done and then denigrating the other side and distorting what they have proposed, you are revealing something.  Words such as ''spectacle,'', ''trial for me,'', ''Stop playing games that stymie every Democratic offer,'', ''do your patriotic duty,'', ''compromise for the good of the nation,'' and I could go on so yes you are exhibiting an attitude that it at odds with the facts so I have to assume it reflects something inside and not good intentions.  And your recommendations are sophomoric without any true understanding of economics.
''The federal government employs some 2.65 million civilians (this 2010 figure excludes the military, so there are actually more federal employees). And states and local governments employ some 19 million workers. ''
Increasing jobs in the public sector is not the answer because few create any real wealth though many conduct valuable services.  A large percentage could be replaced by the private sector at a lower cost and then the money saved could be sent back to the public to spend and create real jobs based on a long term view of the world.  Also more jobs in the public sector could be added in such areas as education if the public sector unions allowed them to happen by taking pay cuts.  Pay cuts are common in the business world but not in the public sector.  Just look at what happened in Wisconsin as the teachers starting paying for part of their medical and retirement.  Essentially this was a pay cut and then the schools could start hiring new teachers or rehiring those let go.  I would start with the federal government and have everyone take an average 10% pay cut starting immediately to show the way for the state and local government area.  
''There are 14 million Americans looking for work, others looking for full-time employment, and those who have given up hope but would gladly re-enter the workforce.'' 
Between 1981 and 2005, small business created 40 million jobs.  This accounted for the total private sector job creation in that time. That is who creates real jobs that people can plan on not government make work which you do not know where it will go.  A good start would be the repeal of Obamacare and the Dodd Franks bill.  These two bills and other government regulations (EPA) are shutting down businesses all over the country or preventing them from hiring because no one knows the future and the cost of hiring or expanding.  This is exactly what Roosevelt did during the Depression and we are on the same course now. 
Also I think you should learn about baseline budgeting and how perverse it is.  The cuts being bandied about are not real cuts but reductions in growth.  If baseline budgeting was eliminated a lot of the nonsense would disappear.  The Democrats did not offer anything real and what was agreed to was blown up by Obama.  It is Obama who is the hypocrite on this but that is nothing new.  So to imply that he is working hard to create jobs is a joke.  He is doing all the right things to prevent job creation.  Maybe you should try to start a business to find out what it takes to create jobs and the hurdles that the Democrats are putting in front of anyone hiring someone.  
And to imply the Republicans are at fault is the height of ignorance.  The Democrats controlled both houses with good margins and passed the stimulus bill that did nothing, they passed Obamacare which will stifle new hiring and they passed Dodd Franks which will also stifle job creation.  Now each of these bills had some good intentions or parts but as a whole they have frozen the economy.  Obamacare had 2700 pages and Dodd Frank had 2000 and there are thousands of lawyers in Washington trying to interpret the bills and writing refulations and that is a big reason no one is hiring or willing to make major investments.  Who knows what will be the result especially health care costs.

For another take on the Debt ceiling negotiations see Keith Hennessey's take.  He is a professor at Stanford and was on the Council of Economic advisors for Bush and also on the Financial Crisis inquiry Commission.  You will immediately see the hypocrisy of Obama as opposed to presenting a false graph by a known hyper partisan such as James Fallows.  His graph actually vindicated Bush because he was much maligned as a big spender when in fact he wasn't that bad.
Helen Smith
7 years 5 months ago
Here’s how a well functioning family deals with a financial crunch:
The family works together and each does a fair share.  Non-essential expenses (not in health care or education) are cut and new sources of revenue are sought.
A parent takes on a second job or goes back to the work force. The children of appropriate age get part-time jobs (no more than 20 hours a week so as not to interfere with school).
7 years 5 months ago
"It is true, as you say, that Republicans won the House handily and at least some new members campaigned on their pledges. But misleading charges against the health care law won the day."

Funny; last week Grover Norquist and his pledge against taxes, which every Republican running for Congress (or at least very near every Republican) signed was the big enemy, castigated from coast to coast.  Today, you're asking me to believe that no one knew Republicans were against rising taxes and cutting spending - that they "fooled" the voters to get elected!

I am not a fan of how my party has behaved in this debate, and I fear they are getting very close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  But to lambast the "game-playing" as being only on one side is a farce.  Again, show me the President's own written plans for reforming entitlements?  For reforming the tax code? For cutting spending?  All he has done time and again is lecture us and take the bold step of...appointing a commission - a Commission who's recommendations he promptly ignores!

You correctly recite that the President compromised on taxes; but then your beef should be with the leader of your party who (foolishly) compromised on a major issue BEFORE the Republicans even had the majority!  I know when your own side has acted in ways you regret, it's comforting to lash out at the other guys and bemoan their (greater) arrogance and intransigence; but sometimes you have to acknowledge the failings of your own side.
ed gleason
7 years 5 months ago
Boehner is hanging on to the Speakership by a thread. No GOP candidate is even close to getting 30% of a primary vote. McCain is where? haven't heard for months.
So posters, who is the leader of this GOP/TP gang?
7 years 5 months ago
I urge all to refer to the USCCB  letter sent to  each GOP house member today -especially Mr. Cosgrove and his friends!
7 years 5 months ago
I read the USCCB letter and there is nothing that I do not support.  One thing though is that if an item gets $X this year and someone puts in for $X + 20% and this item is then cut back to $X, this is not a budget cut.  That is what a lot of the supposed cuts are about, reductions in increases.

It is a game that the Democrats play and say there are cuts when in fact all that is being done is to reduce something to less than a planned increase, often to a level greater than the present levels.  It  is the baseline budgeting fiasco and the USCCB should acknowledge  it  or they will be seen as playing games too.  If someone here wants to criticize the so called cuts then they should acknowledge that they are not really cuts but a slowdown in growth.  The gods are on the side of the Republicans on this one and it may be tough to admit for some that the Democrat's tricks are being exposed.
Helena Loflin
7 years 5 months ago
Responding to Ed's question in #19...

That would be Rush Limbaugh.  He demands to be consulted by the elected "GOP leadership."  If Rush doesn't approve something, it doesn't happen.  Rush has veto power.
7 years 5 months ago
"Boehner is hanging on to the Speakership by a thread. No GOP candidate is even close to getting 30% of a primary vote. McCain is where? haven't heard for months.
So posters, who is the leader of this GOP/TP gang?"

Newsflash: the GOP has won this debate (even if the Reid plan is passed).  On MSNBC today, Kent Conrad, the Democratic chair of the Senate Budget committee objected to Boehner's plan because it cut "only" $850 billion, not closer to $2 trillion like Reid's (accounting gimmicks aside).  He didn't even mention "revenues."  Despite the messiness, Boehner has come out stronger in each of these negotiations.  I'll take Boehner's leadership over Obama's.

Now, if they would only realize that they've won, we can get on with it.
Robert Dean
7 years 5 months ago
Mr. Cosgrove, why so hostile? Can't you register disagreement without name-calling?
Robert Dean
7 years 5 months ago
... and, may I wonder, why do the editors allow comments that insult the writer? Can we make a case for civility, please?
7 years 5 months ago
''Mr. Cosgrove, why so hostile? Can't you register disagreement without name-calling?''

Yes, I can and I usually do.  But the author let loose with one insult after the other and I was just pointing that out and I will take your assessment as such and I apologize to Ms. Smith for my tone but not my analysis.  But her tone was not something that should be allowed in a post by an author here.  She never acknowledged that she could be wrong but assumed that those who she disagreed with were not very nice.

Did you chastize Ms. Smith for the tone of her article?  I think you should.
Mary Sweeney
7 years 5 months ago
@Jeff Landry

''where is the President's WRITTEN plan?'' It's right here, Jeff: I am so sorry you weren't able to find it. It was issued, as required, back in February. Be sure to download the latest version of Adobe Reader so you can get those .pdf files, or you can buy a copy through the US Printing Office. That is the role of the Executive.  The next step is outlined here: ''The United States House Committee on the Budget and the United States Senate Committee on the Budget are responsible for drafting budget resolutions.'' Now those two groups are members of the Legislative Branch. That's how the process goes according to our Constitution.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 5 months ago
"... and, may I wonder, why do the editors allow comments that insult the writer? Can we make a case for civility, please?"

I agree.

Speaking with passion about how one interprets events is essential if we are to understand each other.  Karen Sue Smith has done so with her article without personally maligning those who see things differently.  JR Cosgrove has responded by calling Ms Smith arrogant, self righteous, ignorant and blind.

Commenters have always been welcome to elaborate their disagreements in this space, but when they personally attack the writers with whom they disagree, they should be editted out.
7 years 5 months ago
I'm sorry, JR, that's it for you on this post. You've had your say.
Tom Maher
7 years 5 months ago

You can count on some of the America magazine authors and many of the readers not knowing the basic facts and current status on public affairs and how the United States government works.

It is a clear mistake for the author of this article to seriously say or imply the House of Representatives is playing games or not governing when the House is is doing exactly what it is expected to do under the U.S. Constitution in initiating legislation on  taxes and spending. 

The House of Representative under the U.S. Constitution has specific and unique powers to initiiate and define the terms and conditions of all revenue, taxes and spending legislations.  The House  is closest to the people in that all its memebers are up for re-election every two years and acccordinly the House would best know the will of the people inm detemingin the items, terms  and conditons of allspending legislation.  

It is also a fundemental mistake to assert as Maey Sweeny does above that the President determines what taxes and spending will occur.  Only the House of Representative which usually take the President proposals as its own has the power to inititate all spending legislation and the legislation  content, terms and conditions.

But the facts are this year is very different.  Both houses of Congress rejected overwhlmingly the Presidents budget proposal.  The President's budget is only a  proposal to Congress.  Only Congress can legislate.  This year Congress in a major way said "no" to the President's budget proposal.  And Congress was definitely not "playing games". 

The Senate two month ago rejected the President's budget with its fantastic 1.6 tillion deficit financing (42 cents for every dollar of expenditure) by a vote of 97 to 0.    The Senate also rejected the House of Representative budget so as has been true for the last two fiscal years still id not operating with budget.  The country is fundemetally politcally divided on the U.S. budget and economic policy in multiple ways. 

No games are being played.  These budget and debt financing issues can not be trivialized as playing around.  These issues are as serious and consequential as ever the nation faced.  But the public and congress are fundementally divided politcally on what to do.

The Hoiuse of Representive is correctly governing in taking the led role in legislation, as the Constitution specifically provides, after Congress has rejected all of President Obama's budget and economic proposals. 
7 years 5 months ago
Come on, Tom, why do you find it necessary to add an intro graph taking shots at the editors. Stick to the point, or you're out too.
Tom Maher
7 years 5 months ago
Tim Reidy (#32)

For several days I did not write  on this article but just followed the dialogue.  I found the article to lack the basic political and legal context to the debt ceiling and debt reduction impass that the nation is expereinceing, It also fails to recongnize the real and instense difference of opinions on the issue of this most serious, complex and consequential issue on the national debt ceiling.

This article is provoking  to trivailize and dimisnish this epic issue and the  political leaders involved  as "playing games".  I finally wrote becasue I had to agree with JR Cosgrove's crticism of this article.   

Basically the nation's  is at a fundemental political crossroads.  The nation is running out of financial resources of a magnitude that can not be made up by raising taxes and just doing  more of what we always have done in the past.  The nations debt is out-of-control and will harm the country and therefore must be addressed now.?
7 years 5 months ago
Tom, your argument as you lay it out above is fine; you are welcome to disagree with our bloggers. I object to the hyperbole you employed in the first graph of your initial response-it is insulting (and absurb) to suggest that the editors do not know the basic facts about how government works. Please show some respect to our writers even when you disagree with them. I'm not going to entertain any more posts on this point. Stick to the argument.


The latest from america

This week's guest is Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of New Wave Feminists, a pro-life feminist organization dedicated to changing the divisive language surrounding the abortion debate.
Olga SeguraJanuary 18, 2019
Psychedelics can blur the line between science and spirituality—but Christian mysticism cannot be studied.
Terrance KleinJanuary 17, 2019
The extensive New York Times series in support of legal abortion unfolds as if the last 46 years of the abortion debate following Roe v. Wade never happened and did not need to.
​Helen AlvaréJanuary 17, 2019
In 1983, Sri Lanka descended into a bitter and prolonged ethnic conflict. Harry Miller, S.J., then almost 60, was thrust into a new role as witness, advocate, intermediary and protector not only for his students but for anyone in Batticaloa who sought his help.
Jeannine GuthrieJanuary 17, 2019