In the past couple of months, the eyes of the nation have swung from Washington to Egypt, to Wisconsin to Libya, to Japan and back to Libya, in a whirlwind of news reports.
Before long, that attention will return to the nation’s capital, however, and it won’t be pretty.
The issue that wrenches most at America’s gut is its own economic stability, and while the president and Congress have twice put it off already, there is a time in the near future when an actual budget must be worked out.
It could be as early as this week.
President Obama and most of the Democrats would be happy to sign a functional operating budget, while Republicans want at least $61 billion in spending cuts.
While it’s understandable that the allied effort in Libya and aid to Japan needed the president’s attention, it is time for him and both parties in Congress to sit down and arrive at a workable compromise.
And a compromise it must be, because many of the cuts that Republicans are calling for are irresponsible and unacceptable, cutting as they do at the center of America’s social safety net.
The president knows this, and he and Senate Democratic leaders have signaled that many such cuts will fall to Senate majority votes or be vetoed, but this is not a cycle of vitriol that the nation needs right now. Rancor serves only those who want to ride the tide of polarization to election victories in 2012. But what about the other 99 percent of Americans? Again and again, they have said that endless sniping is not what they want.
Right now, the Obama administration is not offering enough in terms of savings. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last week announced that the White House budget proposal released in February underestimates future budget deficits by more than $2 trillion over the next 10 years.
The president may have been too reticent on confronting fiscal responsibility, but Republican leaders and tea-party freshmen in the House have been simply duplicitous, trying to slash the very programs that Americans need most while preserving tax cuts for the extremely wealthy.
Simply put, both sides have to budge more before they even think about sitting down.
There may even be room for changes in Medicare funding, as unpopular as that suggestion is with a big majority of Americans. The key is in approaching such programs as Medicare with respect for the people who depend on it, getting their opinions on what should be done, and having the courage to risk political careers to make it right.
Republicans should drop the posturing, stop making scapegoats out of valuable institutions such as National Public Radio, and realize that slashing safety-net programs is only going to backfire, making the cost of living ultimately go up for their wealthy contributors.
April 8 is fast approaching, leaders. Please show some leadership.
The Tennessean, Nashville
The Nashville Tennessean