This past week I was speaking before a group of senior citizens and I asked for a show of hands on who was frustrated by the way our president and congressional representatives were running our country. Virtually all hands shot up. This sentiment appears to be a dominant opinion of Americans from coast to coast. If we are all so upset, why then don’t our representatives, including the president, step up to the plate and make the changes necessary to set this great country back on course to fiscal responsibility and growth?
The answer, I believe, is rather simple and is a ‘system’ problem more than a ‘people’ problem. The people running Washington are all career politicians. Being a politician is their job and for most of them, it’s the best job they have ever had. Think about it. Fame, power, and money are each among the most powerful and addictive forces in human nature and a U.S. senator or house member receives mega-doses of all three. With this as the backdrop, the career politician has two primary objectives: get re-elected and defeat the other party so that you are the party in power. Anything else, including what’s best for America, falls into a distant third category.
What drives this mentality is the American voter. While we are all frustrated and demand that something be done, everyone wants someone else to pay for it. The poor and the middle class feel the wealthy should write the check. One wealthy client said he felt he was paying his fair share stating he paid over $400,000 in taxes last year on $1.2 million of income. His business supports fifteen families and in past years, he’s endured eighty-hour work-weeks with little or no profits. Senior citizens want the problem solved as long as you don’t touch Social Security or Medicare. Faced with this mentality, if the career politician placed America first, he knows he’ll alienate a group of constituents and is certain, as his reward, that he’ll face a tough re-election that will be very costly. As a result, ‘kick-the-can’ down the road is his obvious best strategy.
The recent debt ceiling deal is a perfect case in point. The deal, while raising the debt ceiling and thus allowing us to avoid default on our debts, did virtually nothing to solve the mounting debt problem. There was enough ‘fluff’ in the bill to allow both parties and the president to save face and to suggest to the uninformed public that they had made real progress towards restoring fiscal soundness. Obviously, at least one rating service disagreed.
The system guarantees that real problems will not be solved until they rise to the level of a crisis that cannot be ignored or postponed.
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the solution is term limits. Only if the politician is not standing for re-election will he have the fortitude and resolve to vote for what’s in America’s best interest. And since it’s the career politicians’ who must vote to limit their term of office, we should not expect things to change much in Washington.