I smell progress. Maybe it’s Judge Hudson’s ruling on the insurance mandate in Obamacare, or maybe it’s the EPA backing off from imposing new pollution rules. It could be better-than-expected retail sales, higher home starts and declining unemployment claims. Possibly it’s having just finished my Christmas shopping. Whatever the cause, I sense recovery in the land.
Reasons for hope abound. For starters, President Obama has discovered that, much to the surprise of our eager young reformer, most Americans do not want our country turned upside down. He has been demoted – from the absurdly high pedestal on which he himself gleefully climbed, and from wielding the heavy majority he initially enjoyed in Congress.
He has lost many of the advisers who crafted his assault on the nation’s business community and championed his divisive rhetoric.
Increasingly he has turned to experienced hands like Vice President Joe Biden, who had but a bit part until the scenery swallowed up the rest of the cast. Most electrifying (and surreal) was the temporary elevation of former President Bill Clinton; summoning experienced hands signifies a long-overdue modesty.
To protect his prospects of re-election, President Obama has most definitely moved towards the middle. By pushing unpopular legislation like the health care overhaul, he may have played fast and loose with the careers of his compatriots in Congress, but there is no mistaking his intention of being a two-term occupant of the White House. (Any number of tough and controversial decisions – such as where and how to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and what to do next about tax rates – have been postponed until after the election.)
Obama’s agreement to extend the Bush-era tax rates was a matter of political survival; the economy could not have withstood a giant tax hike. And his political fortunes could not have withstood a double dip. His embrace of the South Korea trade pact is encouraging to the business community, and shows that his efforts to drive export growth are sincere. -- His meeting this week with business leaders is probably less sincere, but welcome nonetheless.
The good news for the president is that the country is responding warmly to these gestures. A poll out this week from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News shows both Democrats and all-important independents approving of his new-found inclination to compromise. A whopping 59% of the country approves of the tax deal. The poll also revealed that 57% of the country is not yet ready to make a judgment on the president. In other words, if he plays his cards right, he will likely be re-elected. That prospect will also likely restrain his boundless enthusiasm for growing government’s footprint, and that is good news for the country.
Congress also seems chastened and high time, too. Gallup’s poll out this week shows Congress’ approval rating at an all-time low – only 13% of Americans approve of the job our legislators are doing. Republicans, at least, seem responsive to this truly damning assessment. They, along with some Democrats, appear eager to make amends. (On the other hand, absolutely nothing seems to jar Nancy Pelosi; how anyone so deaf to the voice of the people can have served in such an exalted position is hard to fathom.)
Having seen several Republicans speak in recent days – both energized rookies like Representative Nan Hayworth from New York and standard bearers like Senator John Thune, I am optimistic. These are, notwithstanding the mockery of the media, serious people, who are trying to wade through the legislative swamp and deliver progress for the country. It isn’t easy.
Senator John Thune, a presidential hopeful, proposed a bill this past summer (the Deficit Reduction and Budget Reform Act of 2010) aimed at reining in Congress’ free-wheeling spending. Among other proposals, the bill establishes caps for most discretionary outlays and requires that remaining stimulus monies be hauled back to the federal government.
More important, the bill aims to change the way the budgeting process in Congress works. This is not the stuff of lofty speeches, but it might actually make our government more careful with taxpayer dollars. For instance, Thune wants to create a permanent Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, which would recommend spending cuts “that would receive expedited consideration.” As he said in an op-ed “Congress currently has 26 committees and subcommittees dedicated to spending money; I believe we ought to have at least one committee tasked with cutting spending.”
Thune’s measure would also reform the way the budget is created – preventing “the double-counting of new revenues or reduced spending in trust funds for the purposes of offsetting other expenditures” and give it the force of law, which is not the case today.
Thune also proposes that Congress move to a biennial budget process, which would allow more time for legislators to get the job done right. As he points out, “Congress has only completed all of the annual appropriations bills on time in four of the last 34 years.”
It is time for serious people in our government to start taking governing seriously. That is the mandate from Americans across the spectrum. Work together, devise answers to our biggest problems – creating jobs, improving our schools and confronting terrorists – and fix what is wrong. I may be caught up in the energy of the season, but I think maybe, just maybe, our leaders get the message.