Pass a National Budget Now! Calling All Compromisers with Common Sense

“Never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep.” ~Milton How is it that the great thinkers of the past can really frame a situation wisely?  Whether in 55 B.C., the 1600s, the 1700s, the 1940s, the 1960s or even 2000, there is much to learn about how the United States managed to fulfill its destiny and rise to the top of so-called leader board in terms of jobs, money and happiness. 

Unlike the times of our forefathers, common sense seems to be lacking in the American political engine today.  As a nation, and as a people, America seems to have lost the ability to listen and compromise.  By staunchly standing on either side of the political aisle, this approach has truly divided the nation and whole communities, and it appears that we are no longer willing to work with the other side to create solutions—but instead want to point fingers at different beliefs and ideologies. 

For years, our elected officials have strived to pass a budget for the United States; however, it regularly is vetoed by one party or another.  In 2011, 64 senators signed a letter to President Obama urging the passing of a balanced budget—to no avail.  In 2012, at least seven budget plans were submitted for consideration—again, not one passed.  After spending millions of dollars on plan after plan, and as we head into 2013, we still have no concrete budget scenario for this country.

While citizens stand their ground this political season, it appears that they are ignoring some of the most critical issues of our generation and the next generation—the budget.  While every American maintains his or her beliefs on what should happen to Medicaid, Social Security, defense, education, trade, transportation and infrastructure, gun control or legitimate rape, what seems to get lost in the discussion is that none of these issues can be addressed without a thoughtful, well-devised conversation around fiscal policy devoid of the political rhetoric. 

Maybe there is something to learn from our forefathers, who were not in agreement over every detail of governance, but who found common ground when arguing and fighting for freedom and independence—something we just might lose if we can’t pull it together quickly.  It is an uncomfortable time for our country’s leadership and citizens; our nation must quickly rally to address major issues such as war, freedom and potential bankruptcy to ensure the enduring success of the American way. Yet it seems as if the current politicos are stuck in the mud, forgetting that the American way is critical to our collective success going forward.

In case you don’t know, we are in a crisis—a budget crisis.  It is a crisis of what’s owed to us, as well as a crisis of identity.  We must look at the trigger points immediately if we are to even begin to tackle the issues surrounding the deeper issues. The root causes of the budget crisis are many and varied.  However, one of the fundamental underlying factors lies in our sense of entitlement from the government in this country.  And because of our sense of entitlement, we are well on our way to running a million miles an hour into a brick wall.  Even as early as 55 B.C., Cicero remarked on politics and entitlement, saying, "The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt.  People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance."  Evidently, we've learned nothing in the past 2,067 years.

Many only know what we hear from the snippets of news from traditional news outlets, who some say are only there to show us what we should think.  When you delve deeper into the budgetary issues faced by this country, the outlook appears bleak.  It is not a 30-second problem, and it cannot be solved by a sound bite.  Americans need to understand what a critically important matter this is. It is complicated, and there is no perfect solution.  Without some hard-core, ball-busting, call-it-like-it-is leadership—which will cause some pain—nothing will change or get done. 

So in this article, whether you agree or not, we are going to try to decouple the problem from the solution.  We believe that unilateral power—similar to that of the base closing commission in the 1990s—will be key as politicians and citizens “learn” this delicate dance. 

What’s more, it is important to remember that the story of our country— and that of the budget crisis—at its most base level is a political problem from which the politics must be removed. 

Our greatest risk is to do nothing!

Our forefathers

The American Revolution

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” ~Thomas Paine

There is much to learn from our forefathers.  Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, in 1776 profoundly summarized the establishment of America and its plight in gaining independence from Britain.  At the time, colonial soldiers were just beginning a long and arduous process that would culminate as the American Revolution—where the American colonies challenged the monarchy of Britain to establish a country of freedom and principle, focused on the strength of the government and the happiness of the governed. 

Paine describes the British monarchy: “King, say they, is one, the people another; the Peers are a house in behalf of the King, the commons in behalf of the people; but this hath all the distinctions of a house divided against itself …  Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent. Selected from the rest of mankind, their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed in the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.”  The government suggested by Paine and that America so vehemently fought for during the American Revolution is still the government we need today. "Our elected officials, especially the extremes of both parties, might indeed be exactly what he foresaw—just 236 years later and perhaps more poisoned by importance and insolence.

Surprisingly, Paine’s words regarding longevity and sustainability of the country for future generations to enjoy also ring true.  Paine says, “As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure anything which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully.”  Listening to both national and local politicians, it is clear that a rift exists between parties, more so than in recent memory.  The discussion, or lack thereof, on the budget and deficit issues is contentious at best.  With the list of issues—economic fairness, the deficit, America’s free enterprise system, spending and tax issues, unemployment, and the dilemmas facing the middle class—all are encompassed in this policy area. 

Republicans typically embrace the economic belief that government interventions stifle free market systems, yet Democrats often feel that government has an obligation to support small businesses in their journey toward success.  And while both parties embrace deficit reduction, tax reform and deregulation differently—both can and will only provide a bit of detail on how to accomplish a balanced budget and their approach to the big issues complete with indicators of success.  And with little hope of a “truce” on the horizon, and in an election year where little else but campaigning will get accomplished, citizens can at best hope for colorful rhetoric this year.

“A government which cannot preserve the peace is no government at all,” said Paine.  Surprisingly, the message echoes today—divided “houses,” wasted money, patched up connections and potential downfall as we know it.  And it seems that if voters do not demand some solutions, the national debt and the programs we hold true will continue to spiral out of control, spending habits will not be changed, and the taxpayer—people like each of us—will pay the ultimate price.

The Greatest Generation and the New Deal

Fast-forward 157 years to another time of crisis for this county—America was deep in a depression with more than 25 percent of citizens facing unemployment.  What’s more, totalitarian and dictatorial regimes were sprouting up globally—Hitler, Mussolini and Japanese Prime Minister Hideki.

In fact, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the New Deal—a set of economic programs that focused on relief, recovery and reform—to address the growing societal grief and global unrest.  The New Deal established many complex social programs, including the FDIC, FHA, the TVA, the SEC and the Social Security System—all programs that worked at the time.   In the 1930s these programs drew division between Democrats and Republicans, just as today, but for different reasons.  At FDR’s inauguration on March 4, 1933, national unemployment was at 25 percent and the Great Depression was in full swing.   FDR’s programs, while debatable, nationalized unemployment relief and helped get citizens back to work.  Note that “back to work” was the goal.  In order to gather a benefit, the recipients had to perform jobs that benefited to communities in which they did them. So it was a necessary win-win.  We question today how many millions of people seem averse to working if they can just “get their check.”  We have heard people say, “I don’t want to work. I make more at home.”  Certainly not every recipient of public aid feels this way, but some do. 

FDR’s programs succeeded on several levels as they financed national infrastructure projects that included more than 650,000 miles of roads, 125,000 public buildings, as well as bridges, parks and reservoirs.  The outcome of many of these projects remains today, with little or no money to reinvest in them—American gems such as the Lincoln Tunnel, the RFK Bridge, LaGuardia Airport and the Bay Bridge. 

After a surprise attack by the Japanese, the United States declared war with a battered, but not beaten, U.S. military.  FDR vehemently declared, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." After a brief and forceful speech, he asked Congress to approve a resolution recognizing the state of war between the United States and Japan. The Senate voted for war against Japan in an 82 to zero vote, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a 388 to 1 vote. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the United States was thrust into World War II.

Marked by patriotism, conservation and teamwork, the people of this time, called the Greatest Generation, grew up in ever-changing times—affluence and poverty, war and peace, ruralism and urbanism, and the foundational shift in human rights in this country.  During World War II, America sent 12-16 million people into battle and for the first time pleaded for all types of people to pitch in for the war effort—married women, seniors, the unskilled and even racial minorities (who also fought bravely overseas).  Also during this time, the GI Bill was born, ensuring that returning veterans received housing, education and unemployment benefits upon return from war. 

And while everyone did not agree on the methods to create national stability, the majority stepped up to help create solutions to the problems facing our country.  “At the end of February [1933] we were a congeries of disorderly panic-stricken mobs and factions.  In the hundred days from March to June we became again an organized nation confident of our power to provide for our own security and to control our own destiny,” said prominent writer and political commentator Walter Lippmann regarding the first 100 days of FDR’s administration.  And while some would argue that FDR’s attempts to sooth and align the country were nothing more than socialistic leadership at its finest, these policies guided the country into its next round of greatness.

So what should we do?  What do the plans suggest?

Every year the president must submit an annual budget to Congress.  However, it has been since the Clinton era that the United States was even close to having a balanced budget in place.  Since then, deficits have soared and spending has remained unchecked, which is rather disturbing given the current economic environment.

Today, national unemployment hovers near 8 percent in a stagnant economy (and that does not account for the millions of people who have fallen off the charts due to extended unemployment).  The housing and banking markets have collapsed and are trying to rebound.  There are more people participating in national support programs than at any time in recent history.  The tax reform discussion is immobilized in rhetoric. Health care is the elephant in the room that no one wants to recognize.  Medicare—which touches one in four American households—is currently on an unsustainable trajectory.  K-12 education is wallowing in the muck, while U.S. students globally ranked 31st—with Uzbekistan outperforming U.S. students in international tests. The situation is really a mess.

What’s more, several budget plans have been submitted over the past 24-36 months to Congress for consideration, yet not one has received the support it needs to move to a larger discussion by elected officials.   Some of the budget proposals have been led by committees appointed by the president and/or congressional leadership, including the well-publicized 2010 Simpson-Bowles Committee and the 2011 Supercommittee, and their suggestions have served as the foundation for many of the plans that have come since.  It is important to note that all of these committees or individual plans have failed when it came time to vote.    No one—and we mean literally no one in Washington—can drive consensus on a budget and deficit reduction plan that is meaningful in the near to intermediate term.  If Congress cannot reconcile with the president around Bush-era tax cuts, citizens will be facing a tax nightmare described by Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chair, as “a massive fiscal cliff” as of January 1, 2013. 

President Obama has issued his 2013 budget, and the House Republicans also introduced a budget blueprint that addresses key fiscal issues, but each takes a very different approach about how to avoid the “fiscal cliff” for which we are headed.    

Democrats versus Republicans

Discretionary spending

Discretionary spending is the portion of the federal budget that can be changed on an annual basis through budget directives or changes in tax code.  This type of spending works two ways—expansionary policy typically increases spending or decreases taxes and can often lead to a budget deficit while contractionary policy decreases spending and increases taxes, often slowing economic growth.   Important to note, raising taxes or eliminating tax credits alone wwill not get us out of the predicament we are in as a nation.  Everything that is not mandated by law to be provided as federal government benefits is included in the discretionary budget—things like military spending, homeland security, the State Department, the Department of Education, health and human services, HUD and the justice department. 

Currently, the government annually spends approximately 19 percent or $700 billion on defense, $545 billion or 16 percent on safety net programs (food stamps, etc) and 18 percent or $646 billion on “other” programs.  The FY2013 budget has set forth a discretionary spending budget of $1.264 trillion, with most federal department budgets being cut or remaining the same.  As of mid-September, the House passed a spending bill in a 329-91 vote, demonstrating some form of bipartisan agreement at the Capitol.  While the bill will extend 2012 spending levels for the first six months of FY2013 at an annualized rate of $1.04 trillion, sequestration cuts to defense and domestic spending still linger, and an overall satisfactory outcome has yet to be negotiated. 

Tax reform I

n its current state, most would argue that the American tax code is archaic, confusing, complicated and essentially broken, and it must be addressed quickly if America is to remain globally competitive.  And both parties have diametrically opposing views to the issue.

Democrats: The Democratic Party is arguing that cutting taxes for families that make less than $250,000 per year is the first step to better tax policy.  The party argues that this plan puts “more money in the pockets of Americans” and asks corporations and wealthy citizens to pay an increased percentage of taxes.  Democrats believe that bringing taxes back to similar levels as we had in the late 1990s could help families prosper, and replicate a time when wealthy citizens “thrived without special treatment.”

Republicans: In the near to intermediate term, Republicans are calling for Bush-era tax rates to be extended through FY2013, creating individual tax rates into two brackets, with the top rate capped at 25 percent or less and repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT began as a way to ensure that taxpayers pay at least a minimum amount of tax).  These proposals also require the ending of popular tax deductions, such as those for home mortgages and other costs, which many average Americans bear.  Furthermore, the Republican plans call for cutting corporate tax rates to 25 percent from 38 percent, which in their estimations will keep taxpayer revenues around 18-19 percent of the overall budget and stimulate businesses bottom-line, providing an extra boost to the economy.   

Health care

Of all of the budget and budget-related plans that have been presented over the last few years, health care is arguably one of the most divisive issues across the country.  In 2010 when the Simpson-Bowles plan was presented, the team of legislators identified that federal health care spending represented the “single largest fiscal challenge over the long run.”  Today, health care costs represent approximately 21 percent of the overall U.S. budget—or $755 billion annually.  They noted that overall health care costs continue to grow faster than the economy, causing federal health spending to balloon. In fact, Simpson-Bowles estimated that under its extended-baseline scenario, federal health care spending for Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the health insurance exchange subsidies will grow from nearly 6 percent of GDP in 2010 to about 10 percent in 2035, and continue to grow thereafter.  Generally these projections appear to be correct.

Democrats:  It seems that Democrats, especially those most interested in seeing President Obama get re-elected, strongly support the universal health care plan put into place which is generally referred to as “Obamacare.”  Democrats assert that universal health care is a basic right in a country “as affluent” as the United States of America. The plan does, however, make some important concessions to previous plans, allowing, for example, for parents to keep adult children on their insurance longer. There are also important changes to rules concerning pre-existing conditions no longer being considered as a reason to be declined when applying for health benefits. 

Republicans:  Republicans stand firmly against President Obama’s health care reform law and have attempted to repeal it more than 30 times.  Congressman Paul Ryan’s health care plan, which is aligned similarly to Simpson-Bowles around the topic of health care, asserts that health care pricing is out of control.  Ryan argues, “The rising cost of health care in the United States is the fastest-growing burden on families, businesses, governments, and the economy. In 2007, the U.S. spent an estimated $2.1 trillion to provide, administer, and finance health care—nearly twice the amount per capita spent by any other industrialized nation in the world. Moreover, the rapid growth of health care costs—about 7 percent per year—is eroding paychecks for millions of Americans; and skyrocketing insurance costs are overburdening businesses across the U.S.”  In fact, the Congressional Budget Office reports that the federal government devotes 21.7 percent of its budget to the two major health programs, Medicare and Medicaid, which is more than national defense at 17.8 percent, including war costs. Currently, overall health care costs are absorbing 15.2 percent of national GDP, and if the status quo continues, health care costs will consume 20 percent of GDP by 2016. 

Medicare and Medicaid are highly contentious topics in this area, and people have divisive views on how the problem with cost should be handled.  The Democrats vehemently oppose any effort to privatize the programs; however, the Republicans see privatization as a way to better inefficiencies and slow the unsustainable financial burdens to the states.  According to Michael Lind, policy director of New America’s Economic Growth Program, “Medicare is not a government problem.  It is a medical industry problem—it’s a pricing problem.” 

Social security

When Franklin Roosevelt signed Social Security into law, the average life expectancy was 64 and the earliest retirement age for Social Security was 65. The program was supposed to kick in relatively late in life—when people worked until they could collect it and then did not live much longer. 

Today, approximately one in four households in the United States receives Social Security benefits, and those benefits represent nearly $725 billion annually, or 20 percent of the overall federal budget.  Today, average Americans live 14 years longer, retire three years earlier, and spend 20 years in retirement. In 1950, there were 16 workers per beneficiary; in 1960, there were 5 workers per beneficiary. Today, the ratio is 3:1 – and by 2025, there will be just 2.3 workers “paying in” per beneficiary.  And from a planning standpoint, current American workers need to plan that they may live as much as one-third of their lives in retirement. For those who envision a retirement full of golf and travel that means tremendous personal savings are needed. And for those who do not plan for retirement, they are counting on the fact the federal government will have funds for them for a much longer period of time than was originally expected. 

The debate between Democrats and Republican regarding Social Security is essentially about privatization and is another wedge issue between the parties. 

Democrats: “Stand united to protect and strengthen Social Security today and for future generations and we will fight any Republican efforts to privatize Social Security,” is the argument from the Democrats on this issue.  Although Republicans have proposed “retooling” Social Security in the name of deficit reduction, the facts are clear—the Social Security program is relatively healthy. Since its inception, Social Security has paid for itself without adding a single dime to our national deficit. In fact, today, Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus and is currently solvent. 

Republicans: Republicans contend that “Younger Americans have lost all faith in the Social Security system, which is understandable when they read the nonpartisan actuary’s reports about its future funding status.  Born in an old industrial era beyond the memory of most Americans, it is long overdue for major change, not just another legislative stopgap that postpones a day of reckoning. To restore public trust in the system, Republicans are committed to setting it on a sound fiscal basis that will give workers control over, and a sound return on, their investments. The sooner we act, the sooner those close to retirement can be reassured of their benefits and younger workers can take responsibility for planning their own retirement decades from now,” according to  

Unless we act, upcoming and enormous demographic changes will bring the Social Security program to its knees. Without action, the benefits currently pledged under Social Security are a promise we cannot keep. Today, the program is spending more on beneficiaries than it is collecting in revenue. Although the system’s revenues and expenditures are expected to return to balance temporarily in 2012, it will begin running deficits again in 2015 if interest from the trust fund is excluded and in 2025 including interest payments. After that point, the system’s trust fund will be drawn down until it is fully exhausted in 2037.

Other areas of concern


Besides all of the aforementioned areas of concern, the U.S. education system is also facing a crisis.  There are myriad issues around funding, qualified teachers and student loans.  What’s more, according to the recent U.S. Education Reform and National Security report issued by the Council on Foreign Relations, educational failure and overall lack of preparedness of students poses threats on five national security fronts: economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness and U.S. unity and cohesion. They assert that too many young people are not employable in an increasingly high-skilled and global economy, and too many are not qualified to join the military because they are not physically fit enough, have criminal records or have an inadequate level of education. These are specific and legitimate concerns.

Democrats: While budget issues are an everyday worry, the Democrats have coalesced around the notion that the United States must maintain strong funding for schools and access to first-rate education.  The president is committed to overhauling the “No Child Left Behind” program while providing educators more professional support and resources, yet holding them accountable for the success of students.  Democrats are also committed to sustaining federal student loan programs, including Pell grants, helping low- and mid-income students afford ever-escalating college tuitions. (It is worth noting that many labor unions stand firmly against tying teacher compensation to student performance, citing systematic challenges to the “fairness” of such an approach.)

Republicans: Republicans have taken a different stance on education, arguing that responsibility should be held at the local and state level—not the federal level.  Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in a February 2012 debate, “We need the federal government out of education.”  The party emphasizes school choice, “English First” and teacher accountability as the hallmarks of their plan, and they believe that pumping more money into schools will not change academic achievement.  It is worth noting, ironically, that it was President Reagan who created the Cabinet position for a Secretary of Education, effectively bringing the federal government into public education regulation. Today Republicans also tout support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) emphasis and the proper implementation of technology in the classroom. 

"Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America's security," the report says. "Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy."  In fact, Education Week says, “In a category related to K-12 education, the U.S. is ranked 31st, owing to low rankings in education expenditures. The U.S. pupil-to-teacher ratio in secondary education, at 13.8:1, is ranked 61st. In higher education, the U.S. ranks second in enrollment, but 74th in students graduating with science and engineering degrees. Elsewhere, the U.S. ranks #1 in the amount of students taking the GMATs, the entry exam for business school, but 53rd on GMAT mean score.”  Without a thorough reshaping of educational content and consistency, the United States risks losing and/or falling even farther behind as an “educational, economic, military, and diplomatic global leader,” argues the Council on Foreign Relations.

Immigration T

here is a growing divide among people regarding immigration, considering that all but the Native Americans are immigrants of some sort.  This issue has become so heated it is of national interest on both sides of the aisle, and it is apparent that comprehensive immigration reform is needed.

Democrats: Most Democrats support strong yet thoughtful immigration reform.  In sharp contrast to the Republican Party, the Democrats support reform that brings the undocumented out of hiding, with the requirement that they learn English and begin to pay taxes.  Furthermore, Democrats want to legally pursue only those individuals who endanger communities or break U.S. laws, while leaving those who pose no threat alone.  Border security is considered a high priority, with significant resources focused on prevention of terrorists entering the country and illegal activities associated principally with human and drug trafficking.  President Obama supports the DREAM Act, which provides conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented residents of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment.  If these residents were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six-year period.

Republicans: The majority of the Republican Party has called for a mass expulsion of nearly 11 million immigrants or some measure of reform that would deny all access to citizenship and full border lockdowns within the next few years, demonstrating their strong opposition to any form of amnesty to undocumented immigrants and by discouraging illegal immigration activities.  And while much of the Republican leadership supports “extreme” reform, many individual conservatives have made it clear that they do not feel as strongly by endorsing humane immigration measures and by helping to find a fair stance on immigrant workers throughout the heartland.  Republicans recognize that America will need more than 200,000 science and technology workers for high-skill jobs over the next four to six years; therefore, the party supports the granting of more H1B visas as well as allowing students who graduate with advanced STEM degrees be granted permanent residency in the U.S.  Open questions remain on the issue of seasonal workers who can be allowed into the country for work in industries such as agriculture and who could pay taxes legally and then return to their native countries after a specific period of time.  The challenge, of course, is that many would not go home and would remain if there were any hope of more work.

Foreign policy

After a decade of war and upheaval in the greater Middle East, the threat of nuclear armament by our foes, border issues to our south and political uprisings around the world, the United States has declared its commitment toward global democratic reform.  With that, the military is expected to come home, and a new and broader approach to foreign policy and military might are expected in the near to intermediate term.  The way we get there, however, is once again the major sticking point and one that does not necessarily embrace the notion that  foreign policy is neither a Democratic nor a Republican issue, but one that is embraced nationally and reflects the whole country to the rest of the world.

Democrats: A major focus of the Democratic Party is that the “most urgent threats to the security of America and the world” is nuclear proliferation in the hands of “terrorists who respond to alienation or perceived injustice with murderous nihilism.  They come from rogue states allied to terrorists and from rising powers that could challenge both America and the international foundation of liberal democracy,” as reported in an article written by Barack Obama in Foreign Affairs.  Furthermore, Democrats have said that they will work to negotiate arms-reduction treaties with Russia, draw down troops globally, and use the funding that was allocated to fight wars to “do some nation-building right here at home.”

Republicans: Bound by a core set of values, the Republican Party will aim to make clear America’s stand on prosecution of foreign aggressors and the countries that harbor them, promote open markets with representative governments, exercise hard and soft power on governments before internal conflicts begin, and exercise her leadership in multilateral organizations.  This strategy requires immense funding to the Department of Defense for everything from shipbuilding to cyber-protection.  Additional resources will be allocated for additional diplomatic assistance to the greater Middle East, while advancing economic opportunities in Latin America, according to Romney’s website. 

Bleeders Or monsters?  You pick …

Little else defines the current generation of politicians except partisanship and bickering sound bites.  As we witnessed in the recent Republican and Democratic National Conventions, the air was filled with animosity, anger and backstabbing.  It was an “us versus them” mentality—focused squarely on that which divides rather than that which unites. 

What’s more, there has been a massive shift in voters over the last 100 years, with the deep beliefs of the Millennials and the overwhelming growth in racial and ethnic minority populations, namely Asian-American and Latino adults.  In a June 2012 opinion piece featured in The New York Times, it was demonstrated that the Republicans have become “the party of white America” and that Democrats really have become the party of everyone else.  It seems that independent and nonpartisan voters are swinging the pendulum of “what’s expected” and that most minority groups just feel like they do not belong in either party.  Don’t be mistaken, these groups of voters are not only political but are reachable, and once engaged, these people can and will wield strong opinions,  potentially turning the red and blue arguments into ones that embrace all shades of purple. 

These demographically diverse groups have never really experienced war, poverty or hard times where everyone worked together for the greater good.  This demographic has never really known how to bleed.  “We, as a country, have not had a unifying event for the new generation.  We have not had a World War I or a World War II to unite our generation. Sadly, we have not ever really gotten behind the notion of Iraq and Afghanistan as a ‘unifying’ war. We have, by and large, been given everything we have by parents and a government that wanted it to be easier for us than it was for them. That is, of course, a noble goal. However, what it seems to have done is to create an unmotivated generation who wants to be given a lot but who is unwilling to do much to earn it. We have never bled for this country or for ourselves. We don’t know what it feels like to be part of a collective of people all with shoulders to the wheel and noses to the grindstone,” said 30-year-old Kevin Kersting, president of CAP Logistics.  “You are parents. You understand. If you raise your children by giving them everything they want and everything they ask for you won’t create good responsible people, but rather you will create monsters. I believe we have created a country with a generation full of monsters. The madness has to stop,” he said.

Whether Democrat, Republican, Independent, Socialist or Libertarian—we must find civility within us and learn to see some form of compromise as a victory.  We must stand up and use our voices to say we’ve had enough!  And if we do not begin to see timely action, fighting over hypotheticals that will not even begin to take effect until 12 years in the future, for example, will be moot.   Certainly what we see now does not look like strong leadership. It looks more like posturing.

In the final analysis, whether you are oriented to the right, the left or if you sit squarely in the middle, most people we’ve talked to are just disgusted with the state of things. The economy is precarious.  The health care debate is confusing and irritating. The employment market is bleak at best. The planet appears to be too hot, and nothing really feels like it is going all that well. We are in a malaise of mediocrity that has become so pervasive, it’s like a debilitating disease to the American spirit. We have an illness of will for which there is no cure. We have an absence of enthusiasm that has pulled our individual focuses so far inward that we seem not to be able to see the forest for the trees. We have people screaming from the far sides while everyone else—which amounts by some counts to 80 percent of the people in the country—seem to be standing with their proverbial fingers in their ears, deaf to the din of negativity.

The choices we have to make are not easy ones. But at least we have choices. We must look at the situation in which we find ourselves, and each of us must make tough decisions. This involves ranking problems. This involves giving priority to some things over other things that are no less important. This involves deciding where we stand—issue by issue—and then sticking to our guns (so to speak) and having the will and fortitude to let our political leaders know where we stand and where we refuse to compromise.  Perhaps if we re-create a culture of true accountability, we will figure out how to motivate one another and ourselves through these tough times.  One thing that is certainly true is that if we do nothing, we know what the future looks like because we are living it now—and it will get worse.  The chart below lends some sobering reference to the fiscal issues that are facing us in the near to intermediate-term.

What are we to do?

For more than three years the president has worked with bipartisan legislative commissions and very smart individuals to craft a budget that is reasonable yet appropriate in the economic predicament the United States faces.  And whether citizens like it or not, without a budget, we continue to fall deeper into debt, and continue to amass more dollars toward our $16 trillion dollar deficit.  What’s more, $0.42 of every dollar spent by the federal government is borrowed and that number will continue to grow exponentially between now and 2022.  Right now, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that nearly 6 percent or $227 billion of the overall U.S. budget is spent on net interest alone.   If we continue spending at such an unreasonable rate, we will foster hatred and ill-will among the citizens of the country and supporters abroad, but what’s potentially more harmful—we will we risk the very foundation of this country.   

Here’s what we think … It isn’t about the rhetoric that has blown through the recent conventions or national news stories.  It isn’t about the color of your skin, your religion or your gender.  It isn’t about whether you believe that you are entitled to what has been built before you or not. 

It is about is the ability to work together—to fulfill our patriotic duty to make America better for our children and grandchildren.  It is about getting things done instead of constantly bickering—which is driven by political pollsters.  It is about all of us exercising our rights as Americans to urge—perhaps force—our legislators to actually do their jobs. 

We cannot grow our way out of this problem; eliminating earmarks will not solve the problem; wiping out fraud, waste, and abuse will not solve the problem; ending the war or cutting way back on defense will not solve the problem; restraining discretionary spending will not solve the problem; and letting the tax cuts expire will not solve this problem,” said former Comptroller General David M. Walker in his testimony to the House Budget Committee. 

We think the guiding principles of the Simpson-Bowles Committee is spot on in terms of the challenges we face and the vehement denial of politicians to politely, yet aggressively, engage in policymaking: “Americans are counting on us to pull together, not pull apart, to put politics aside and do the right thing for future generations. Our country’s economic and national security depends on us putting our fiscal house in order.  There are many plans that have been created over the last two years that address our nation’s efforts at creating and living by a national budget in order to create a lasting tomorrow.  The American people are counting on us to put politics aside, pull together not pull apart, and agree on a plan to live within our means and make America strong for the long haul.”

While budget issues are certainly not the sexiest of news stories—like immigration, or foreign policy, education or Social Security, there are some legislators who agree that Washington must lead.  They recognize that there will be no special earmarks on the table—the solutions will be painful for some because the problems are real!  The U.S. Government is currently in debt $16 trillion, and estimates of unfunded entitlement program spending going forward over the next 10-50 years is between $32 trillion - $114 trillion.  “The Chinese government doesn’t need nuclear weapons to take out the U.S. – they can just call-in our debt notes and watch global economic chaos ensue,” said Elliott Smith, executive director of the Iowa Business Council.  We must meet the trifecta of a lifetime head-on by addressing the issues now—balanced budget, debt reduction and fiscal strength; otherwise we risk ending up like Greece—or worse.    

At ICOSA we create a platform for readers to engage in discourse—but we would argue that it needs to be a civil discourse with a focus on telling the truth—not always the good news.  Whether you are a posy-sniffing Liberal or just to the right of Attila the Hun, or anywhere in between, we challenge you to use your voice and your capacity to get a balanced budget and debt reduction plan passed as soon as possible. 

And while we know that life seems so much easier without the facts, the only way that we can truly find solutions is by looking at the facts.  We have arrived at a moment of truth, and neither political party is without blame.  America cannot be great if we go broke!  Isn’t there a way to check the politics at the door and focus on policy?  Don’t we realize that the “wedge” issues mean nothing if there is no funding to take care of the issues?  How do we change the belief that compromise equals loss?

We would argue it is by getting engaged, calling your legislators and voicing your opinion on this issue, voting and joining ICOSA in Washington, D.C., to urge our leadership to do their jobs!

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton perhaps said it best at the bestowing of the Congressional Gold Medal to political activist and parliament member Aung San Suu Kyi: “It is well for us to remember people fight and die for the right to exercise politics.”  We must remember we are the most blessed population on this planet.  Let’s act like it and work together to solve our biggest problem—the budget!


ICOSA:  Around the Virtual Water Cooler ™

ICOSA asked friends and connections on social media the following question, and here are some of the responses we got:

What do you see as the single biggest threat to America today?

“The loss of moral and political credibility, the loss of economic leadership, low educational standards, religious extremism.”  ~Andreas Traxler

“For me, government FOR the people and BY the people has to be based on consensus.  If not, we are no different from the USSR back in the day (and once again) or the Taliban (the current conversation regarding ‘legitimate rape’ and ‘some punishment’ and coverage of birth control).  For me, it’s what makes us different … and, I think, better—the ability to see past our personal opinions and find common ground that works for the majority.  No decision will ever reach 100 percent consensus—we’re human beings and pretty darn stubborn—but I think we can do better.”  ~Suzanne Hammer


Let’s quantify a “trillion”:

  • 1 million seconds = 11.5 days; 1 billion = 32 years; 1 trillion = 32,000 yrs.
    • If you spent $1 every second it would take you almost 12 days to spend $1 million.  
    • It would take 32 years to spend $1 billion.  
    • But it would take you 32,000 years to spend $1 trillion.
  • One trillion $ bills stacked on top of each other reaches 68,000 miles high.
    • The average center-to-center distance from the Earth to the Moon is 238,857 miles. 
    • A stack of 10 trillion $1 bills would be 680,000 miles high—or 2.85 trips between the Earth and the Moon.
    • If you laid one dollar bills end-to-end, you could make a chain that stretches from the Earth to the Moon and back 200 times.
    • One trillion dollar bills would stretch nearly from the earth to the sun.
  • It would take a military jet flying at the speed of sound, reeling out a roll of dollar bills behind it, 14 years before it reeled out one trillion dollar bills.
  • The current salary of NBA star LeBron James is north of $42 million per year.  He would need to play for 23,809 seasons to earn $1 trillion.
  • The Big Bang Theory is estimated to have occurred 13 billion 600 million years ago.  That’s one-third (1/3) of one trillion.  We have debt that is quantifiably much bigger than the age of the universe.