Monday, August 1, 2011

The Hidden Costs of the Deficit Debate

In his comments in the Senate in opposition to the deal struck in the debt ceiling debate, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) argued eloquently that the debate about the deficit has forced the discussion about national priorities away from the most important issues -- including the creation of jobs, addressing the needs of healthcare and education (particularly early childhood healthcare and education), and the large disparity in net worth between white Americans, whose median net worth is in the $100,000+ range, and African Americans and Hispanic Americans, each of whose median net worth is less than $10,000.

Senator Harkin clearly and forcefully detailed the importance of each of these issues, saying in part that these are the priorities that Congress should be addressing, rather than continuing the shameful posturing in which individual members have indulged in recent days.

Warning that the deficit deal as it now stands, and as it will likely be adopted, is in reality an impediment to job creation -- and arguing that the spur of federal government spending is frequently the primary catalyst for private sector investment -- he asked that the deal be rejected in favor of a meaningful debate about the issues that most impact the lives of individual Americans, and that weigh most heavily on the well being of the nation as a whole.

This is a quixotic request, of course; for despite the long, acrimonious confrontation over the raising of the debt ceiling and the attendant demands for deficit reduction on the one hand and revenue increases on the other, it is exceedingly unlikely that a majority of elected officials on either side of the debate would be willing to endanger the credit rating and global economic standing of the nation by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And it is even less likely that individual Senators or Representatives would be willing to do so for the express purpose of having a meaningful debate about issues as complex as the federal government’s role in job creation, healthcare and education, and the impact of wealth disparity on the fabric of American society.

Which is in the end the saddest part of the entire destructive debate that has preceded the current deal: while many elected officials are more than willing to strike a dramatic pose to debate the propriety of some esoteric mechanism of the nation’s ability to pay its debts, few are willing to address issues that relate directly to the everyday lives of the people who they represent.

At least occasionally, as in the comments by Senator Harkin, it is comforting to hear a voice emerge among those few reasonable officials, and to encounter those issues that are of such vital importance to so many Americans.

© 2011 Patrick J. Walsh

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