Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Conservative"s View Of Broken Government

 Tony Blankley, a conservative who has experienced the hard knocks of Washington politics, suggests we won't know whether we have a broken government -- a conclusion already reached in some political circles -- until the Republicans control Congress in 2011.

The budget hawks, he argues, will follow the will of the people to curb entitlement spending in Social Security and Medicare and funnel the nation's economy to a balanced budget and path to reduce the national debt. If not, then by Blankley's definition, we will have a broken government.

The author and columnist, writing in The Huffington Post, epitomizes the blinders conservatives wear in applying simple panaceas to complex problems.

Never mind the previous eight years the Republican Bush administration transferred a surplus to a $1.2 trillion deficit, plunged the economy to the brink of depression and got us in two wars, one by necessity. They enacted generous tax cuts for the wealthy and a drug subsidy program for seniors without paying for it.

Putting all that aside, the only way to salvage bankruptcy in our entitlement programs is to raise individual payroll taxes and Medicare premiums, reduce benefits and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. According to Blankley, that's plugging a $50 trillion gap of unfunded liabilities in our entitlement programs.

It begs a question: Will the groundswell of an enlightened electorate voting for budget hawks be so gung-ho when they learn they will pay more and receive less bang for their buck?

And, another: Will the Republicans attack the Defense Budget with the same aggressive vigor as entitlements?

Blankley envisions this:

So, should the election play out as described, 2011 will be the year that will test whether our government is broken, because a pretty good definition of a broken government (or more accurately, a broken polity -- a government and its electorate) is one that agrees on a great threat to society, agrees broadly on what needs to be done -- and cannot do it.

While the more progressive wing of America views the Senate as dysfunctional because the minority Republicans are blocking all major legislation with the threat of filibusters, Blankley sees it as a victory for freedom preventing the enactment of bad policy driven by worse programs.

There is nothing new in that. I served in the Reagan White House and with Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. I recall feeling both times that government was broken -- the filibuster was blocking our majority rule -- because we couldn't get "vital" legislation enacted. (In fact, both times I was involved, inter alia, in the failed effort to close down the Department of Education, saving only its essential student loan functions.) We overreached. We got a lot done, but only that with which the public was comfortable.

Unlike some Republicans, he gives credit to the Clinton administration for at least balancing the budget once and creating a surplus with the inference the Reagan administration set the economy rebounding in that direction.

The fact is, a higher tax structure and robust economy swelled the federal coffers with income beyond their wildest expectations. The same cause and effect are needed to salvage the remaining years of the Obama administration.

Blankley cites examples of broken government in the fall of the Roman Empire and the U.S. Civil War.

Under Lincoln, "America got its first real, sustained taste of authoritarian government." Uh oh. Is he suggesting the Senate passing legislation democratically by simple majority vote "authoritarian?"

Blankley is a bloodied foot soldier for more intellectual conservative voices I respect in David Brooks and George Will. It's just sometimes the blinders he wears as a campaign consultant for Republican candidates can't filter his partisanship.

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