Where’s the Buck?
By John D. Turner
9 Aug 2011

“I believe this is, without question, the tea party downgrade.” – Senator John F. Kerry, two days after Standard and Poor’s downgrades U.S. credit rating to AA+

Has anyone found a used brain lying around? Senator Kerry seems to have lost his. Of course, that presupposes he ever had one in the first place; a doubtful supposition at best. And to think that there was a very real possibility that this clueless moron could have become President of the United States.

Kerry made his comment on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, two days after Standard and Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+; the first such downgrade in the nation’s history. Chalk up another “first” for the Obama administration.

Senator Kerry wasn’t the only Democrat to mouth these words. David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Obama said the exact same thing, leading one to wonder if this is a trial balloon for the new Democrat talking points for the week.

So how can this be spun to blame the “Tea Party”, a grass roots organization of ordinary Americans concerned that their country is borrowing entirely too much money with no visible way of paying it back? This is exactly the outcome the “Tea Party” has been shouting from the rooftops would happen if this administration didn’t rein-in spending and cut up its credit cards. This is not the outcome the “Tea Party” has been advocating for; it’s the outcome we have been trying to avoid.

The problem lies in a 180 degree difference between Democrats and Republicans, between Progressives and Conservatives, between the “Tea Party” supporters and those on the left regarding the proper role of government and how things ought to be done.

The “Tea Party” supporters, and to a certain extent the Republicans, see the problem as overspending. They are calling for massive cuts in government expenditures and a lowering of taxes to stimulate economic activity.

The Democrats, and those on the left, see the problem as a lack of government revenue. They are calling for tax increases on businesses and the “rich”, and an increase in government spending to stimulate economic activity.

It is the fact that these two viewpoints are diametrically opposed, and that the stakes are so high that has made it so difficult to reach a compromise, resulting in the sort of gridlock we have seen in Washington D.C. these past months. We are talking about major philosophical principles here, about on par with asking a pro-lifer to compromise on abortion, or a pro-choice advocate to support a bill stating that life begins at conception. And can you much blame either side? A person willing to compromise on core values, short of being dragged there kicking and screaming, is a person without a core or values.

Standard and Poor’s told the government that it needed to enact at least $4 trillion in cuts in order to avoid a downgrade of its credit. After much wrangling, a last-minute bill was put forward for the President’s signature. That bill fell short of what S&P said was needed to avoid downgrade. It should therefore come as no surprise that on Friday, after the markets closed, S&P did what they said they would do and reduced our credit rating to AA+. Sorry guys, but just because we are the big bad United States doesn’t mean that we get to flout the rules that everyone else plays by. We just are not as good a risk as we once were.

And if we don’t get our act together soon, we may see another downgrade to AA in the next six to 18 months, according to an S&P spokesperson on Sunday.

The United States is on notice; either rein it in or it is going to cost you more. The question is, how do we do it? Do we go with the Democrat’s prescription and increase taxes on business and those making over $125K (you know, the “rich”), or do we do it the way the Republicans want by cutting government spending and taxes to encourage private industry to create jobs? Or do we perhaps compromise, and do a little of both.

Cutting government spending sounds good until you break out the knife; while every dollar the government spends isn’t vital in the overall scheme of things, it is vital to someone. Every buck has a constituency. And every constituency is sure to howl once the blade descends on them. And yet, everyone will say that the budget is too big and needs to be cut; it just needs to be cut somewhere else, not where their funding line is located.

No one wants their taxes to go up either. And when you look at the total tax burden that the “rich” in some states are paying, you can see why they are relocating elsewhere. Of course, that just exacerbates the problem in those states. We hear from the left that the “rich” are not paying their “fair” share. And yet, over half the working population of the United States pays no Federal income taxes at all. Is that “fair”? One thing we never hear is exactly what that “fair share” should be; only that they are not paying it.

I consider myself a “Tea Party” supporter. I do indeed think that the government has grown too large, spends too much money, and does many things it has no business doing. I am appalled by the amount we are borrowing to finance what I see as an over-the-top spending binge that we can’t afford and which threatens the country’s economic stability, my retirement that I have worked hard for, and my children’s future. I think it needs to be pruned back severely. And yet, I could be persuaded to raise taxes as well as part of the solution to the problem. It all depends on how those taxes are raised and what is done with them. It depends a lot on trust, a commodity that is in short supply with me when it comes to the federal government.

As I see it, the problem isn’t that we aren’t taxing “the rich” enough; it’s that we are letting too many people get away with not paying any taxes at all. Yes, some of these are rich; they have found ways within the tax code to avoid the taxman. But most of them are not, and many of these not only pay no taxes for the privilege of living here, but actually get money from the government at tax time.

What we need to do is overhaul the entire tax system to something that is more “fair” and certainly more transparent than the Byzantine monstrosity that we have currently. When a citizen needs to hire a specialist to do their taxes for them because it is too confusing to do so themselves (and when two such “specialists”, working the same return come up with different results because the code can be interpreted in different ways) you know that it is time for a change. Heck, the IRS itself can’t give you the correct answer to tax questions over half of the time.

Our current tax code is less a revenue source for government spending as it is a rewards and punishment system for those the government likes or doesn’t like.

So who is responsible for the downgrading of the U.S. debt? The constitution says that spending bills originate in the Congress. Maybe that’s where we should start. I know that my wife tells me that it’s real hard to control our spending without a budget. When was the last time Congress passed a budget? FY2009?

Then again, it would be nice if we had some leadership. Isn’t that the function we hire the President to perform? It’s great if he looks good, and speaking well is certainly a plus; but the main thing we expect from a President is leadership skills and a plan. And not just any old plan, but a plan that works. If it works, the President gets all the credit; if it fails, the President gets all the blame. That’s the way it has worked throughout the history of our country and that is the way it works now.

Except with this President; quick to claim the credit when he thinks it is his due, ready to blame everyone under the sun when things go awry.

It’s the Tea Party’s fault. It’s the Republican’s fault. The S&P has shown “terrible judgment”; they’ve “handled themselves very poorly;” they’ve “shown a stunning lack of knowledge about the basic U.S. fiscal budget math.”

It’s the military’s fault” – they have spent too much money “being the policeman of the world”, says the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. That would be Barney Frank, in case you were wondering. Apparently Mr. Frank thinks that the military just gets to spend whatever it wants without any oversight or budgetary constraints. After all, that’s what the current administration is doing.

Enough finger pointing already! There is blame enough to go around. We can start with Mr. Frank and the Freddie/Fannie debacle if you like. I am sure Mr. Frank does not. How about instead we sit down and fix the problems? Nah, too easy! In reality too difficult. See the comments I made above concerning diametrically opposed positions.

Then there is Mr. Greenspan’s charming statement that there is zero probability of default since the United States can “always print money” to cover any debts it might incur. Really? This man headed the Fed for almost 20 years and his solution is “print money?” Yeah, I guess “technically” I didn’t default. I paid you back what I owed you; it isn’t my fault the money is now not worth the paper it’s printed on. Sucker! Just goes to prove once again that this is not exclusively a Democrat problem. They are both leading us over the edge; one is just doing it faster than the other, that's all.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons S&P is downgrading the debt. The U.S. has been printing an awful lot of money lately.

Meanwhile, the markets melted down again on Monday, with the Dow closing down 634.76 points. As I write this, around the world, the selloff continues. The Nikkei just closed down another 4.43%. With four hours left to trade, the Hang Seng is down 6.23%. The DAX in Germany opens in three hours; it closed off 5.02% yesterday. When I get in to work tomorrow morning, I will see how it is fairing - and how the Dow looks in the pre-market; right now it is off another 263 points.

I am sure that this will be viewed as evidence by the left that it would be “dangerous” to privatize our social security system (as many other countries have with very good results). This would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that it is leftist spending policies that are causing the market meltdown in the first place.

President Truman had a very famous sign on his desk; it said “The Buck Stops Here”. I think President Obama needs a sign as well. But in his case, since nothing is ever his fault and he is never to blame, the sign should read “The Buck Never Got Here”.