Recently, in terms of enacting legislation that deals with budget deficits, government spending, or taxes, the only time Congressional action is taken is when a “manufactured” crisis is in the public eye, as has been shown with the fiscal cliff negotiations and raising the national debt limits. Allowing the sequester to take hold was a “mini-crisis” that did not have the same shock value as having the government default. Therefore, no serious attempt was made by the two parties to come to an agreement to avert the sequester which was originally passed in 2011 to sidestep a financial crisis at that time.
The main reason for these crises is that the two parties have diametrically opposed views on financial issues, particularly on how the budget deficits and national debt should be addressed. Republicans see government spending as the root of all evil and want to bring the budget deficits and debt under control by cutting federal spending and shrinking the government (except for the Department of Defense). The Democrats are willing to cut spending to some degree but also want to raise revenue by eliminating tax loopholes on the very affluent and corporations, so that overnment programs that aid the poor and disadvantaged will not have to be reduced as drastically.
Not only do the parties have very different positions on these important issues (and others), they also derive their support from completely different constituencies, to whom they are beholden. Though the Republicans have traditionally been the party of big business and corporate America, these have been surpassed in the GOP by extremely conservative Tea Party members, many of whom view Democrats as evil Godless socialists. They are generally white, older, more male, and more rural. Incumbent Republican members of Congress in many districts are fearful of the Tea Party, aware that primary challenges may be mounted from the right against them if they do not take conservative enough stands. Since they come from gerrymandered safe districts, they are more concerned with other candidates in the GOP primary elections than running against Democrats in the general elections. If they show they are unwilling to compromise to allow the government to function efficiently, they will be applauded by their constituents and reelected.
The Democrats are more urban in orientation. They derive support from unions and minority ethnic groups, and generally win a majority of the women’s vote. Democrats also are backed by poorer citizens, academics, and trial lawyers. Though there are certain programs Democrats may refuse to curtail, over all they are not as rigid as their Republican counterparts and usually will compromise if they believe it will benefit the country.
To enact legislation, both Houses of Congress must pass a bill after differences are resolved by a joint committee and it must then be signed into law by the president. Since the Republicans are in control of the House of Representatives and the Democrats control the presidency and the Senate, both parties must be in agreement if proposed legislation is to become law.
Many of the conservative Republican members of Congress are willing to pass financial legislation that might sustain government spending only after arm-twisting by the leadership if a crisis is brewing. Their primary goal is to reduce the size of the federal government and its power, as they see “big” government as the problem in America rather than the solution. And while their positions
may hurt Republicans in nationwide elections, they help the incumbents in their own Congressional districts.
While government by crisis may continue for a while because of Republican intransigence (despite pledges by both parties to call a truce), Republican insistence on cutting discretionary programs that help poor and middle-class citizens will drive more Americans to vote Democratic. Demographics already favor this. In addition, it’s the entitlement programs that are the main cause
of our future budget deficits and national debt and these have not yet been addressed by either party because of the expected outcry that will result. But hard choices must be made in these areas to avoid a true crisis down the road.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.