The Freak Show: Will Somebody Up There Please Get Serious?

We’re heading into the middle of February, and where do we stand with all the promises and proposals we heard during the campaign season that recently ended? It was filled with bluster about everything that was going to happen to turn things around, and came from both Republicans and Democrats. And just what have we gotten so far?

The best-known campaign pledge was made by the incoming Republicans, who now hold the majority in the House of Representatives. In A Pledge To America, the manifesto they published last September, was the explicit promise, “We will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone.” Representative John Boehner, who upon the election results became the powerful Speaker of the House, repeatedly invoked that number, including a national radio address on the Saturday before the election in which he said, “We’re ready to cut spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving roughly $100 billion almost immediately.”

Where are the budget proposals and plan that call for that? Nowhere to be found. In fact, Republican congressional aides are now saying that the $100 billion figure was hypothetical, and that the objective is just to get annual spending for programs other than those for the military, veterans and domestic security back to the levels of 2008, before the Democrats approved stimulus spending.

It’s no wonder Americans are so skeptical of our politicians. They make bold statements, and then turn around and call them hypothetical.

And just what have they been doing for the past few months? For starters, there was a shooting in Arizona, which affected one of the members of the House of Representatives, so they had to take a week off. Can’t do any work, of course, when they are too shocked and in mourning.

Then the Republicans quickly got on to the business of repealing the health reform bill that was passed last year. Never mind that they knew it had no chance to pass, since the Senate is still in Democratic hands and the President would be sure to veto it. They need to waste everyone’s time and money on debating the issue and bringing it to a vote.

In the debate, the Republicans talked about repealing the current bill, and then beginning work on a plan of their own. Of course, they had eight years during the Bush administration to come up with a plan, and couldn’t get around to it. And why should they, since Representative Boehner recently said the American health care system is “the best health care system in the world.” For members of congress it undoubtedly is, since they have the gold standard of plans. But we spend 17 percent of our GDP on health care, while the rest of the world averages 8 percent, and yet we are 49th in the world in life expectancy.

Who can blame them for thinking that? Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, had heart bypass surgery in 2003. He had it done at Bethesda Naval Hospital, done by some of the best doctors the country has, and it didn’t cost him a dime.

Even parts of the health care bill that polls show are overwhelmingly popular with the public, such as the provision that kids can stay on their parents policies up to age 26, and the fact that insurance companies can’t turn down people because of a pre-existing condition, have to go. No thoughtful re-analysis and proposing adjustments; just get rid of it all.

What else has been keeping our illustrious leaders occupied? There was debate over how much a security guard in an airport can touch a passenger during the security check. There was a denouncing of Obama because he didn’t make it a point to talk about “American Exceptionalism” in speeches that were broadcast around the world.

There was a debate on the US-Russian START arms treaty, which would continue our tradition of controlling nuclear arms proliferation. It would also give a head start on our cooperation with Russia in trying to prevent rogue states such as Iran and North Korea from getting nuclear weapons. But while a plethora of notable Republican defense experts, from Kissinger to Powell, called for its passage, many Republicans fought it. Wouldn’t want to give Obama a political victory, now would they?

A major debate did occur between the parties on whether to continue the Bush tax cuts. They all were in favor of the lower tax rates for most Americans, but the Republicans held it up by insisting that the rate that affected top 2 percent of Americans stay at 35 percent, as opposed to going back to 39.6 percent. That’s right, the whole thing was held hostage to save the richest Americans 4.6 percent. And the compromise they reached was to give the Democrats everything they wanted, such as extending tax credits and lowering FICA and Medicare withholding, and to give the Republicans all they wanted, such as the tax cuts for the rich. Some compromise, just give everybody everything.

And the hot-button issue of earmarks, where congressmen insert millions into the budget for per-projects and favors for friends. They all decry it, but all do it. How much do you want to bet they are in next year’s budget when it gets finalized?

Where’s the debate our elected leaders, our “best and the brightest,” are supposed to be having about the important issues we face? There are American kids dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ballooning deficits. Immigration issues. Social Security solvency. And yes, the still-skyrocketing cost of health care. We obviously need serious debate and problem solving skills to come to the forefront here and address these issues. We need our elected officials to start getting serious about tackling these problems, political points notwithstanding. It’s time for action.