Friday, April 22, 2011

Middle-Ground Never Looked so Good

The current battle being played out on Capitol Hill over spending is all about the classic democratic struggle over what the appropriate role of government should be. President Obama’s approach to the current recession has been to stimulate the creation of jobs, restore faith in lending and protecting safety net programs by pumping money into the economy. Republicans suggest that they have a “mandate” from the last election cycle to cut and therefore forward spending proposals that will dramatically cut federally funded programs. The role suggested is to let the economy correct itself by ensuring industry and individuals with wealth have regulatory and tax protections to build jobs. As the House and the ultra-conservative Republican Study committee forward their spending cut proposals from $30 to $60 billion, the Democratic Senate side begs for a slower approach to deficit reduction and demands revenue action.

The problem is, we’re talking about the lifelines to millions of unemployed Americans.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, HEAP, and TANF are keeping the lights on and food on the table. Programs like HeadStart and Community Action provide preschool and eldercare allow the “sandwich generation” to keep a job, knowing their family has social interaction and safety. Some House proposals would place a cap on spending on states’ Medicaid programs that would make it nearly impossible to cover residents that turn to Medicaid as they age or experience health or economic disaster.

Public programs have become integrally tied to the orderly functioning of our economy through decades of debate and reasoning. If quickly terminated, what will the economic ripple effect be on families, communities, and states as a whole?

The President unveiled his multi-year deficit reduction plan that would ease spending over 10-12 years while at the same time ending continuing tax exemptions for wealthy individuals. Think-tanks like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warn that sudden, severe cuts to programs and services would further undermine individuals’ abilities to get back to work and would make the economy sink farther into recession.

Despite severe differences of opinion between economists on how to “fix” the economy, our legislators need to take a thoughtful approach that looks at the complex interaction of all aspects of our economy. Other nations are looking to us to see whether if we can find a middle ground that represents a moral and sensible approach. Differences in beliefs on the role of government have always been at the core of our democracy. The discourse that continues to grapple with that answer means it’s working. The final determination will be up to all of us.