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Today: What is next after the debt “supercommittee” failure?
Cal: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Congress failed the American people once again.
Bob: I better stop you now. That’s a dog-bites-man story. Been there, done that.
Cal: Let’s not rehash what happened — or rather what didn’t. The bottom line: When President Obama and Congress couldn’t reach a deal, they outsourced it to a committee. And with the world watching, that committee failed miserably.
Bob: What a heart-warming little story.
Cal: But where was the president on this? He was in Hawaii and Australia during a crucial time when he should have been providing leadership at home.
Bob: Oh, please. This world is more connected than ever before. Do you really think the president needs to be there in the flesh to be in touch and aware of what’s going on?
Cal: Well, he could have at least sent his teleprompter to Washington!
Bob: OK, so out of a scorched forest springs new life, right? What good can come of this?
Cal: The optimist in me says there’s still time to do something before we end up in a Greece- or Italy-like debacle.
Bob: I’m not sure we should equate our economy with Greece and Italy when their combined economies arebarely larger than that of California. The most important point in this exercise is the historic opportunity that was missed. Never again will 12 members of Congress be given this kind of power.
Cal: They didn’t even use the power. And I wouldn’t use California as an example of anything. That state ishardly the model of fiscal sanity.
Bob: That’s the point. These 12 could have re-written the tax code, changed entitlement spending and transformed the entire federal budget without having to go through a single committee, face a single amendment or face the prospect of a filibuster.
Cal: So whose fault was it?
Bob: Partially the Democrats, but mostly the Republicans for their recalcitrant position against raising any taxes, especially on millionaires and billionaires.
Cal: I get tired of Republicans being blamed for recalcitrance. It is only when they fold that they receive your approval? We both know — or at least I think you know — that even if all of the millionaires and billionaires in America had their entire income confiscated by the government, it would put only a tiny dent in the debt. And tell me when a tax increase caused Congress to spend less. You can’t, because it has never happened.
Bob: Had the Republicans agreed to even modest tax increases, the Democrats would have been willing to change entitlement spending, which is at the heart of the deficit.
Cal: Wait. The Democrats were demanding $1 trillion in tax increases, and when Republicans put their base in danger by agreeing to some revenue increases, Democrats held the line for $1 trillion and nothing less. President Obama threatened to veto any bill that didn’t contain massive tax hikes. Besides, we who earn the money should demand it be spent more responsibly before we give them another dime.
Bob: Let’s get beyond all of this bickering. Washington is full of that — or simply full of “it” — but we’re supposed to be above it. What can we agree upon that will change the dynamics of political Washington?
Cal: If you listen to many of USA TODAY’s readers, they want to throw all the bums out.
Bob: Now you’re talking. How about placing a national referendum on the 2012 ballot saying that if Congress and the president do not reach a budget agreement by 2014, a constitutional convention on term limits would follow?
Cal: What kind of “budget agreement”? They could agree to spend another trillion dollars, and that’s an agreement.
Bob: Balance the budget. Bring in as much revenue as the Treasury is spending. If not, term limits.
Cal: Democrats lean too heavily on tax hikes to balance the budget. No deal! And let’s be careful about walking down the road to a Constitutional Convention. It may sound good, but all sorts of mischief could occur. But I’m with you on term limits. It is the only way to stop this endless cycle of debt and “the public be damned” attitude. It would also remind members that they work for us; we don’t work so they can have “careers.” I’d also cut their pay if they don’t make progress toward a balanced budget.
Bob: What term limits would do is insert backbone into our elected officials — at least some of them. Instead of campaigning for a lifetime on the Hill, they’ll be seeking to cement a legacy in a finite amount of time. The clock is ticking when the oath is taken.
Cal: OK, so we’re for term limits, though we’d need to figure out how to get them and what form they’d take. Two six-year Senate terms? How many years in the House?
Bob: Conceptually, we agree that the country needs to move toward limiting a lawmaker’s time in Washington.
Cal: Fair enough. And I’d argue that the American people would be wise to limit the term of this president, too, but we have another year to hash that out.
Bob: Yes we do. Besides, you should see who the GOP puts forth as the candidate before saying he or she is better than Obama.
Cal: You could throw a dart at a page in the phone book and find someone who would be better than Obama. But short term, we still need to act quickly to right our fiscal ship. I’d ask Congress to take another look at the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which was appointed by President Obama and then came up with a plan that Obama simply ignored.
Bob: Simpson-Bowles looks better and better with each passing day, doesn’t it? I mean, it sought to cut spending, reform the tax code and to tackle entitlement spending, too. I wouldn’t take it as is, but it was a strong starting point. You knew it was on track when Republicans and Democrats ran from it.
Cal: So true. And we’ve agreed that they put forth some good ideas that could lead to common ground. Congress might consider passing at least those provisions on which both parties have stated agreement.
Bob: Right. Perhaps the few seeds of agreement can lead to something meaningful down the road.
Cal: We’re always left hoping, aren’t we?
Bob: Sadly, that’s where we are. We started writing this column years ago with the hopes of breaking a partisan divide, of providing a model for good-faith negotiations. Today, despite high, high stakes, the divide is deeper, and our government is losing the support of the people.
Cal: Which is why term limits have never sounded more palatable. Problem is that Congress would have to approve them. Even so, when the well is poisoned, sometimes you have to find another source of water.
Bob: It’s time to start digging.