Thursday, November 15, 2012

The definition of insanity -- Nov. 15, 2012 column

Psychologists reject the popular definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Insanity is just a legal term, they say.

Fine, but they should hang around the nation’s capital. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to see we’re living in a nutty time.

We just endured a $6 billion election – the costliest in American history – that failed to reset Washington. For the last two years, as gridlock reigned, people kept saying “after the election, after the election...”

Finally the election came and went and we still have the same key players in the White House and Congress. We hear talk of compromise, but at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue the players seem to be digging in their heels, saying many of the same things about the same looming problems as they did before voters went to the polls.

One big difference now: Time is running out to fix a fiscal crisis that could plunge the country back into recession and bring misery to millions. Unless President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans agree soon on a deficit reduction plan, a package of $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts will kick in automatically in early January.

Obama is sticking to his campaign pledge to raise the income tax rates on the top 2 percent of individuals and top 3 percent of businesses. That’s what the election was about, he says, and he won. He’s right.

Election Day exit polls found that 47 percent of voters approved of raising taxes on people with incomes above $250,000, as Obama proposes, the Associated Press reported. Only 35 percent wanted no tax increases for anyone and 13 percent favored higher taxes for all.

But Obama can’t go it alone. He must enlist balky House Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says Republicans flatly refuse to raise tax rates. They favor closing tax loopholes and limiting deductions, which Democrats won’t raise enough revenue.

There was a glimmer of rationality after Obama’s first post-election news conference. The president seemed open to a smaller increase in tax rates on high incomes than he had called for previously. Boehner seemed to suggest the possibility of a deal, but other Republicans were dismissive. We’ve been down this road before, when Obama and Boehner failed to agree on a “grand bargain” last year. 

Speaking of insanity, almost every Republican member of Congress has signed the no-new-taxes pledge championed by Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.

“The problem is too much spending,” Norquist declared on CBS the other day. “The problem is not that the peasants aren’t sending enough money to Washington.

But it’s not the peasants who would send in more money; it’s the princes.

Anyone who would like to see Washington work for a change hopes that Norquist’s influence is waning. But Americans for Tax Reform just poured nearly $16 million into the general election campaign, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.  
The Taxpayer Protection Pledge obliges signers to oppose any effort to increase marginal tax rates or to reduce tax deductions and credits, unless matched dollar-for-dollar by further reducing tax rates.  
I’d like to say that Americans trust Obama and Congress to do their jobs and steer the country away from the fiscal cliff. Alas, no.

About half of us expect that the two sides will not reach agreement, and only 38 percent think they will, a post-election survey by Pew Research-Washington Post found.

The poll shows how little faith people have that Washington can function. Still, failing to reach a deal could prove risky to Republicans’ political health. Asked who would be to blame if no deal is reached, 53 percent said congressional Republicans and only 29 percent said Obama.  

Congress and the president need to do their jobs. Anything less is insanity.

©2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent job Ms. Mercer. The congress and the president need to reach an agreement on taxes and spending in order to deal effectively with the 16 trillion debt. Your topic is timely and your treatment is balanced. I am confident the powers that be will avoid the fiscal cliff, but I am less sanguine about their dealing effectively with the debt.