Luxury versus necessity.
That’s the debate around every kitchen table these days, and it is reflected in Congress. American families need to cut back and stretch their budgets, and Congress needs to cut way back in order to regain some semblance of fiscal sanity.
But while American families deal painfully in reality, some members of Congress are divorced from reality. Freshman Republican congressmen — straight from the kitchen table — look at a federally funded program supporting “cowboy poetry” as a luxury, while the Senate Majority Leader — who has been in Washington for 24 years, literally one-third of his life — says his state of Nevada can’t live without its federally funded, annual “cowboy poetry” event.
Think of how this would sound at the kitchen table as a husband and wife discuss tightening their belts in order to make their family budget work.
HE: “We’re really in a financial hole and the only way out is to cut back, no question.”
SHE: “But honey, you know I can’t live without the Nieman Marcus furs?”
Or, just to be fair …
SHE: “We have to find places to cut back if we’re going to have enough money to cover the basics this year.”
HE: “But honey, I thought we agreed my golf clubs are outdated. I absolutely need a new set this year.”
These conversations don’t exist outside of Washington. Gasoline alone, at nearly $4.00 a gallon, is already forcing families to reconsider commutes, vacations, and trips to purchase basic goods for basic needs.
Outside of Washington, necessity trumps luxury, and it is easy to distinguish between the two. With a $1.6 trillion budget deficit and a $14 trillion national debt, Americans expect Congress to make the same distinctions.
In fact, the word “trillions” is a fairly new one for Americans to wrap their collective heads around. We had become accustomed to “billions” over the past few decades. We know many state government budgets are in the billions, we know Bill Gates and Ross Perot are billionaires, even the New York Mets — with all of their problems — are worth close to a billion dollars. “Billions” doesn’t seem like that much anymore.
“Trillions” is a lot. “Trillions” is a problem. “Trillions” gets people’s attention, and not in a good way.
First it was President Obama’s trillion-dollar stimulus package that only saw unemployment get worse and threaten a double-dip recession. Then it was President Obama’s $2 trillion health care law that may not even be constitutional.
The budget deficit, national debt, and the outstanding money owed by Social Security and Medicare — over $100 trillion — have exploded, leaving a nation more uncertain about its future than at any time since the Great Depression. Knowing this, how does a congressional leader say — with a straight face — the nation cannot live without a federally funded, yearly symposium on “cowboy poetry?” What family, trying to get itself out from under a large credit card debt and struggling to pay its mortgage, decides it cannot live without Nieman Marcus furs or a brand new set of Taylor Made golf clubs?
This is why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), President Obama and other liberal leaders in Washington don’t realize that if the government shuts down because an agreement cannot be reached it is they who will be blamed. No one will blame conservatives and Tea Party members who are trying to get the country’s fiscal house in order.
Democrats who believe Republicans will get blamed by the public for a government shutdown are stuck in 1995 when “trillions” wasn’t a household word and America’s financial future wasn’t imperiled. Americans know the difference between luxury and necessity; they have already undergone the rude awakening that awaits Harry Reid and the rest of his gang in Congress.
Penny Young Nance is CEO of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization.