Capitol Lookout: Politicians lock horns in a perfect storm

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As another long, hot summer is about to descend on Washington, D.C., the second act of the seemingly endless political drama “He Said, She Said” is getting under way again.

With one side of the Capitol seeing nothing but white and the other black, both sides are moving inexorably and in slow motion toward an economic precipice that everyone agrees is just over the horizon.

With just about every major economic decision being put off until after November’s elections, a number of well-placed Capitol Hill insiders believe the fate of the republic may well hinge on the electoral fortunes of the 87 Tea Party Republicans who were first elected to Congress in 2010. Nearly every one of them has signed a pledge against raising taxes in the belief that this is what a majority of the American electorate wants. But their unwillingness to compromise has resulted in near total congressional gridlock and an utter failure to solve our mounting fiscal problems.

That’s the consensus of opinion I took away in the wake of meeting a dozen or so members of Congress and their staff from both sides of the aisle this spring during the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s American Boating Congress. I’ve been attending this annual conclave since it was launched in the 1980s.

For those who don’t normally follow the ebb and flow of Washington’s machinations, but whose lives and businesses will be mightily affected by how this drama plays out, here’s a brief sketch of what’s at stake. But first forget about the Mayan calendar’s prophecy for 12/12/12. The real end-of-the-world deadline is Dec. 31, 2012.

On the last day of this year the Bush tax cuts will expire, including those affecting marginal rates, capital gains, dividend rates and the marriage penalty. The alternative minimum tax “patch” will disappear and the estate tax will balloon. The 2 percent Social Security payroll tax cut will bite the dust, as will the 100 percent write-off for business investment.

But that’s only the first act. Because last year’s “super committee” could not compromise and reach any agreement, $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years will have to be made, with 50 percent coming from defense and 50 percent from so-called “discretionary” programs. With defense hawks vowing opposition to this deal, which was ultimately accepted after much debate, the stage is set for another major brawl.

Act three features a vote to raise the debt ceiling. Many of you might recall last summer’s debacle. A long and drawn-out battle to raise the debt ceiling resulted in a lowering of America’s credit rating.

With all of these storms due to hit on or about the same time, many observers have been hoping that a “perfect storm” can be averted during the lame-duck session of Congress — about 25 working days between Election Day and the end of the year. The thinking is that with the pressure of the campaign over, calmer heads will prevail and a “grand compromise” can be struck.

Recent events are beginning to buffet this scenario.

On May 15 the conservative Club for Growth, which has made a name for itself by funding successful primary challenges against RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), issued a report critical of many House GOP freshmen for not being sufficiently true to Tea Party principles by voting to increase the debt ceiling and voting against spending cuts.

Thirty-four of the freshman class of 87 received scores lower than 65 percent, including Tea Party firebrand Rep. Alan West (R-Fla.). Click here for a complete list of Club for Growth ratings.

Getting singled out for being insufficiently pure can be a death knell for politicians in an election year. The recent primary election defeat of the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), by a Tea Party-backed candidate is just one example of what can happen to those who stray from ideological purity. Being drummed out of the Republican Party — a fate that befell former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist — is a development that most politicians have not forgotten.

In what can only be described as pure coincidence, House Speaker John Boehner later that same day gave a speech demanding that any year-end debt limit increase be offset by equal or greater spending cuts or reforms — and not taxes — the position he took last year that led to a high-stakes game of chicken and a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating.

To make this string of events seem even more bizarre, in an effort to bring the warring sides together President Obama invited top congressional leaders to the White House the very next day for what is now being called the “Hoagie Summit,” featuring some of the president’s favorite sandwiches from a local deli.

By all reports, “hoagie diplomacy” failed to satisfy anyone’s appetite. It now appears that gridlock will harden as the presidential campaign slogs on and the odds of a train wreck increase with every passing week as each side seeks to solidify its base.

That said, there is one scenario that could break the logjam. What happens this November to the 87 Tea Party freshman elected in 2010 will go a long way toward deciding whether a lame duck session or a new Congress that takes office in 2013 will be able to deal with the problems outlined above.

Should this group suffer major losses and be replaced by lawmakers who have campaigned to help solve the nation’s problems rather than make a statement or be hog-tied to a “no-tax” pledge, the chances will increase that Boehner, who has been boxed in by the Gang of 87 since they were elected, will have more room to maneuver and reach a compromise with Democrats on spending cuts and revenue reforms.

Whether this takes place in a lame-duck session or in the first quarter of 2013 is anybody’s guess. At this point the chattering class is of the opinion that the lame-duck session will kick the can down the road and extend whatever needs to be extended for a short period of time until a new Congress can reach a “grand compromise.”

Let’s face it. Deal making is what politicians are elected to do in a republic with two parties and a government founded on a system of checks and balances. Our system of government cannot work if all of the members of one party vote as if it’s a zero-sum game. Bipartisanship has served our country well for more than two centuries. With trillions of dollars of economic activity and the welfare of hundreds of millions of Americans at stake for years to come — not just for 2013 — it’s time to put politics aside. The alternative is a recession even greater than the so-called Great Recession.

Michael Sciulla testified more than 30 times on Capitol Hill during a 28-year career at BoatUS, where he managed the organization’s government relations and public affairs operations while serving as editor of its 650,000-circulation flagship publication.


7 comments on “Capitol Lookout: Politicians lock horns in a perfect storm

  1. enginecom

    It’s really simple. OMG = Obama must go! If we get rid of that socialist lefty no compromise tax and spender the outlook into the future will be much brighter. Just remember all the spending and borrowing that has come out of this administration amongst other bad policy when you all get to cast your votes in November. The tea party if they totally take over Congress and Romney is POTUS then the gridlock will end. If Oblunder gets another four years we can look forward to more demands for taxation of the job producers which is a non starter in the US House. You can also look forward to more regulation nation tearing at our tolerance for government. Government is best that governs least. The GOP is best suited to run this country.

  2. Bob Lucas

    Michael, the above is a joke. First of all, we are no longer a Republic, but rather a sad Democracy with Federal Government intrusion into our lives and businesses.
    Secondly, there is nothing to compromise about. The Senate hasn’t offered a budget in three and 1/2 years. It’s a joke, and yet they’ve increased our debt in the same period by 6 Trillion with a T.
    Check the Senate record to see how many bills in total have been passed in the last three and a half years. Probably less than a dozen….and why? Simply because Executive Orders are the Law making Du jour for this administration.
    Our Founders are probably rolling over in their graves.
    Finally, the NMMA’s support of the L.O.S.T. treaty is in direct conflict with the interest of the United States marine industry. Just ask the fishermen, commercial and private. There will be areas set aside for fishing, another for cruising, and areas for whatever. We should not ratify a treaty since it can’t be unratified without constitutional amendment type legislation.
    If anything, we should be “OUT OF THE U.N.”. It’s bad enough that we have Globalists that want us to become part of the One World Order. WAKE UP PEOPLE!

  3. toby Burr

    This article is all wrong. The Republicans in the House are far more willing to compromise than are the Democrats in the Senate or the President. The solution is for the Republicans to take the Senate and the White House. Then all business in our country can proceed knowing that their own government is not out to destroy them. The economy would improve in short order and people would be hiring again!
    The author’s solution of electing fewer Republicans to the House could well result in the liberal wing of the Democratic party again controlling all three branches of government. Our economy will never recover under that scenario.

    I have noticed a number of articles in this trade magazine that have apologized for if not supported all powerful government staight arming our industry. This seems strange for a journal that should be supporting the marine trades.

  4. AnonymousBob

    The Tea Party philosophy of pure austerity will be the demise of the US if they aren’t defeated this year. Our issues are a little bit of spending problems (military-industrial complex) and a LOT of a revenue problem. Since politics has become a business, the theory of bi-partisanship has disappeared and is now a lost cause.

  5. tired

    Yes I’m tired; tired of Mike scuilas one sided diatribes.
    How about a smidgen of “Fair & Balanced” for a change? Or is this the editorial policy of Soundings?

  6. Moderate Republican

    With the current GOP leadership and its Tea Party faction, sadly I must admit they would be the last party I want running this country right now…and I’m a GOP member.
    …Guess I’m not “pure” enough 🙂
    I do agree, however, that everyone must compromise.
    good debate-

  7. CPR

    “””the consensus of opinion I took away in the wake of meeting a dozen or so members of Congress and their staff from both sides of the aisle this spring “”””

    It seems to be the BLAME game from all perspectives instead of taking ownership of the responsibility to govern. Republican’s blame Tea Partiers, and Dems blame Bush.

    Here is a scenario of how I see the problem. All of those in government are in an Antique Car Club – I have an old car for sale with bald tires, bad brakes and leaking roof. Now like politicians who run for office and accept the vote the members of the Auto Club see what needs to be fixed about the car I own before they buy it. They claim the ability, desire and know how to fix the car and make it look new and road worthy. They borrow the money from tax payers to buy the car. They now own the car – they knew what condition it was in when they bought it – no one takes the responsibility to change the tires, fix the brakes or the roof. They can’t decide which to do first or that it needs to be done at all. They decide that it is all my fault for letting the car go to ruin in the first place. They all hop in to take the old car for a spin. The brakes fail as the front and rear tires blow out, and they crash head on into a semi-tractor trailer truck and kill the driver. They get out and scream that it wasn’t their fault – it was my fault. So they walk away in dismay and brush off their suits and claim no responsibility, and when the new team comes along to pick up the pieces they get slammed for being to single minded and that they are trying to derail and log jam the system. This is how I see all in Washington D.C. today.

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