Our Real Deficit: Leadership

We’ve heard it over and over. President Obama said it loud and clear during his campaign, “I’m willing to cut historic amounts of spending in order to reduce our long-term deficits.” He was also adamant about increasing taxes on the wealthy. In his own words, he wanted a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction. One would assume that since Obama got elected on this moderate approach, that the fiscal cliff bill proposed originally in the U.S. Senate contained both of these policies.

The law contains the following provisions: suspends automatic sequestration cuts, raises $620 billion in revenue through ten years by taxing individuals that make more than $400,000 and families that earn more than $450,000, and adds $4 trillion to the deficit along with additional stimulus spending with tax credits.

Notice something missing? There are no spending cuts. There is no “balanced approach.” The only one thing that conservatives should be proud of the fiscal cliff deal is extending several Bush tax cuts and making them permanent. Those who make less than $400,000 and received a tax cut will have a permanent tax rate. This is something that should make us in the right pretty happy:  permanent tax cuts.

On the other hand, the package has many tax increases along with additional stimulus spending in tax credits. This is the first time Republicans voted for a tax increase since George H. W. Bush’s Administration without any cuts in spending.

Granted, President Reagan was fooled far too many times into signing bills that increased taxes and avoided cuts in spending. He’s known for agreeing to a dollar increase in revenue per three dollars in spending cuts. Those spending cuts didn’t occur and, in fact, the Gipper increased the deficit.

Same thing happened here although Republicans knew, willingly, that there would be no spending cuts. They knew spending cuts would be delayed. They passed a law that went against their long-standing principle of tax increases to avert a tax increase on 100 percent of Americans. But they still voted for tax increases without spending cuts.

The Republican leadership (or clearly lack thereof), just made the Republican Party more and more irrelevant in our polity. Republicans no longer have long-standing principles but malleable principles. They have principles that can be ignored just so that they are not held responsible for increasing taxes on all Americans.

There is no statesmanship in Washington left on both sides of the aisle. Both parties scrambled to the last minute to come up with a mediocre bill that doesn’t reform our taxes and doesn’t address our gargantuan debt. There were just a few in the House of Representatives and the Senate that voted against this pusillanimous bill.

Republican Senators Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Charles Grassley, Richard Shelby, and Democrats Michael Bennet, Tom Carper, and Tom Harkin are the few statesmen in our Senate. They voted against the bill because it is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to increase the national debt.

As for the other chamber, 85 Republicans voted in favor of the bill including former vice-presidential candidate and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan along with 172 Democrats. Ryan was a candidate that I enthusiastically endorsed for the 2012 Presidential Election.

Republicans need to stand up to what they believe in. They should only vote for tax increases if there are drastic cuts in spending just like Senator Tom Coburn once said (another “conservative” Senator that voted for the tax increase with the fiscal cliff deal).

This fiscal cliff deal-sorry for the cliché- kicks the can down the road. Washington avoided yet again taking courageous stances on government spending.

And so, here comes the debt ceiling debate. Obama wants to raise it for additional government spending and Republicans, theoretically speaking, will oppose it. But coming out of this fiscal cliff deal, will the Republicans oppose it? I’m not so sure. Do they want to become a serious party or will they cave in like those 40 Senators and those 85 Congressmen? Let’s hope serious conversations return to Washington and address our country’s problems.

Alex Uzarowicz | Knox College | @AUzarowicz

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