By Jim Morford, cross posted at InTheLobby
When I was a youngster and things weren’t going well in the economy, the Democrats would always claim, “It’s Hoover’s fault.” Republicans, on the other hand, blamed Democrats for “getting us into war” citing Wilson, Roosevelt (FDR) and Truman.
Today, things have changed. Democrats blame Bush for both the economy and for getting us into war.
But who really should bear the responsibility, if not the blame, for the problems facing our country today? To be sure, there is enough blame to be shared by both political parties for landing us in the deeply troubled economy that haunts us today. Politicians of all stripes and at all levels of government have, through fiscal irresponsibility, over taxed and over spent the public’s money. Truly, the blame can reach beyond politicians to include skillful labor unions who have negotiated benefits beyond the ability of governments and private sector employers to pay for them. Additionally, an apathetic public – perhaps the greatest cause of all our woes – has allowed corrupt politicians, avaricious businesses and organized labor to loot the public coffers.
Since the days of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, our country has been on a Fabian path to statisim. Some are surprised that the Obama Administration has accelerated the pace.
In his most recent book, The Next Decade, geopolitical analyst and founder of Stratfor George Friedman presents a provocative and insightful look into the next decade. It’s a book well worth reading, as he sees a time of massive change and what the US will need to do to survive.
Before we jump headlong into speculation about the next decade, let’s take a look at the recent past to get some idea of whose policies and actions have put us where we find ourselves today.
From 1949 until 1995, the Democratic Party held majority control of the House of Representatives, thereby acting as a restraint on one-party dominance when Republicans sometimes had majorities in the US Senate and/or the White House. The philosophy of bigger and bigger government, embraced to greater and lesser degrees by both political parties, has dominated the country since the 1930s.
It was the relatively short period from 2003 to 2007 that the Republican Party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. Even during the “conservative” presidency of Ronald Reagan, at least one house of Congress remained in the control of the Democratic Party and government continued to grow.
The current and dramatic shift in political dominance in Washington did not just take place on January 20, 2009 when President Obama was sworn into office. The shift actually began on January 3, 2007 when the Democrats recaptured control of the US Senate. At that time, the Dow closed at over 12,600; unemployment stood at 4.6% and the economy under George W. Bush set a record of 52 consecutive months of job growth.
It was on January 3, 2007 that Barney Frank (D) became Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and Chris Dodd (D) took over the Senate Banking Committee. 15 months later a meltdown occurred in the banking and financial services sector of our economy, notwithstanding President Bush’s urging repeatedly that serious reform was needed.
One of the most important responsibilities that a member of Congress has is to enact an annual budget for the federal government. However, the US Senate under the leadership of Harry Reid (D) has failed to pass a budget since 2009. The House, under Republican control since 2011, has twice passed budgets and sent them to the Senate, which for purely partisan reasons has failed to enact a budget bill. Unfortunately, Majority Leader Reid and his Democratic colleagues believe that partisanship is their primary responsibility, rather than fiscal stewardship and sound public policy.
The Federal budget cycle is governed mainly by six laws. Probably the most important of them is The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 that governs the basic practices of federal budgeting and spending. Because of partisan irresponsibility in refusing to enact a budget and to avoid government shutdowns, Congress gets along by enacting continuing resolutions. Doing so fails the test of fiscal responsibility. However, public apathy (cited above) allows negligent politicians to get away with it.
President George W. Bush was no fiscal conservative or effective small government advocate. During his eight years in office, he increased the federal budget by 104% and the national debt grew by $3.3 trillion.
The Obama Administration has accelerated the pace of spending and debt to unsustainable levels. Today, the national debt stands at over $15 trillion. The debt is dismissed by some as just money we owe ourselves, but the interest on that debt has to be paid out of tax revenues, or borrowed and added to the debt. That interest so far in 2012 is nearly $4 trillion. There are those politicians who see increasing taxes as the only answer to any problem. Others contend that the problem is not that government has too little in revenue, but that it is spending far too much.
Whether it is the fault of Republicans, Democrats or both, it is a useless exercise to simply blame. Rather, we must reverse course and get our fiscal house in order if we are to survive as a nation that resembles anything we have known up until now.
There are solutions, but no easy solutions. Our apathetic and dependant population “served” by corrupt and power-grasping politicians may result in our becoming more like Greece than the affluent land of opportunity we once were.
In a 2011 interview conducted by economist Donald Luskin, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan observed that he sees the United States as having crossed the threshold, a point of no return, at which we’ve taken on too great a government debt, and at the same time made too great a commitment to government control of the economy. Luskin wrote, “He told us that we won’t recognize America 20 years from now, and that we won’t like what we see.”
Jim Morford is former Associate Director of Government Relations for the NJ Education Association, former VP and chief lobbyist for the NJ Chamber of Commerce, former President of the NJ Food Council and is Executive Director Emeritus of the NJ Society for Environmental, Economic Development (NJ SEED). He is a partner in the Trenton-based consulting firm of Morford-Drulis Associates, LLC. The opinions expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any clients or associates.