To our politicians: “We are deeply in your debt”

RANCHO SANTA FE, CA., April 14, 2011 – In something reminiscent of the start of the Indianapolis 500 and with a presidential election year on the horizon, the budgetary debate starts with: “Ladies and gentlemen, start your name-calling.”   Why can’t the Democrats and Republicans just focus on the job at hand and put Party politics aside … just this once?

Assuming you weren’t taking an afternoon nap, you might have heard the President’s second speech about our Nation’s 2012 budget.  His first one in February was a real “yawner,” but with two more months to prepare, he delivered a scintillating reprise yesterday … just ask Vice President Biden.

The President’s speech also was a response to the Republican budget proposal:  The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America’s Promise.  If titles make a difference, the Republicans have a winner.  The President’s budget is named Fiscal Year 2012 Budget of the United States Government.  Alas, there’s probably more to a budget than just its name.

In support of their budget, the Republicans position the President and his Party as a bunch of “tax and spend” Liberals who will bring about the economic end to life as we know it.  Of course, anyone who paid attention during the last Bush Administration knows that the Republicans can give the Democrats some competition when it comes to spending.  A war here … a war there … and pretty soon, we’re talking “big” money!

The Republicans apparently hope that they can engineer their own version of social change (i.e., cutting the programs that are not favored by their donor base) while diverting our attention to the sinister risk of the Liberals’ Robin Hood strategy (i.e., taking from the rich and giving to the poor … and ostensibly destroying jobs and small businesses in the process).  The Republican plan even projects a balanced budget by 2040.  That’s only 29 years from now!

Of course, the President’s plan isn’t nearly that assertive.  It doesn’t pretend to reach a breakeven point.  In fact, it adds an additional $9.5 trillion to our National Debt by the end of its tenth year.  Hmmm, where have we heard about a $9 trillion debt before?  You may recall someone saying:

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure.  It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills.  It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.  Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally.  Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’  Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren.  America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”

Was it Speaker Boehner?  No.  Perhaps it was Majority Leader McConnell or renegade Representative Ron Paul. No, again!  Well, which right-wing extremist was it? 

Actually, it was then-freshman Senator Barack Obama (March 20, 2006) who was imploring Congress not to increase the debt ceiling to $9 trillion.  What a difference a few years make.

Press Secretary Carney (perhaps the most aptly named Press Secretary in our Nation’s history) adds to the “carnival” flavor of the whole debate by explaining that President Obama “thinks it (his statement) was a mistake” and that the President now realizes that “raising the debt ceiling is so important to the health of this economy and the global economy that it is not a vote that, even when you are protesting an administration’s policies, you can play around with.”  Seriously though, what difference does it make?  He got elected saying it and a lot of people have bought the theory that it was all Bush’s fault anyway.  Forget the fact that a President doesn’t have the legislative authority to do anything.  The Constitution is apparently overrated.

During the President’s speech, he dutifully invoked Lincoln and said the budget debate “will affect (our) lives in ways that are potentially profound.”  Then, he gave his version of American history as it pertains to what our country owes us.  Had President Kennedy been alive to hear it, he may have been disappointed.

President Obama began to inspire the audience by saying. “We came together as Democrats and Republicans to meet this challenge (the deficit) before, and we can do it again.”  Then, he ignored the word “together” and launched into an assault on the Republican Party.  Someone should tell him he needs their votes.

We learned that the Republicans are apparently against clean energy, education, transportation, sick people, the elderly, poor children, and middle-class families.  This is about as fair an assessment as the one proffered by some Conservatives who suggest that all Democrats favor a socialistic form of government and are against jobs and the American Dream.  Where’s the bipartisan spirit and change we were promised?  This just sounds like politics as usual.

The Republican plan targeted a feeble $4 trillion dollar reduction of the deficit over 10 years.  The President’s response was to promise a much more aggressive $4 trillion reduction of the deficit over 12 years.  Huh?

Do these people have any common sense … or math skills?  The Republican plan amounts to a $400 billion reduction per year, while the President’s plan calls for a $333 billion reduction.  Now, it’s becoming clearer why the Republican plan doesn’t project a balanced budget until 2040 and the President’s plan doesn’t project one at all.

Our National Debt is already approaching $14.3 trillion and is growing about $4 billion per day.  So, let’s do some simple math.  If we multiply $4 billion a day time 365 days in a year, we get $1,460 billion per year in new debt, yet even the more aggressive Republican program only averages a reduction of $400 billion per year.  Does that scare you?  It should!

Rather than wasting time delivering meaningless speeches that only serve political purposes, how about revisiting the issue of our National Debt in a meaningful way … or at least getting out of the way of others who can get the job done?

How about using an indexed federal budget that would take the political games out of establishing a budget (as described in The National Platform of Common Sense)?  It would flex with changes in GDP and population and allow for controlled exceptions to successfully address unplanned emergencies.

Do you remember those 14,000 unoccupied government buildings the President said he was going to sell earlier in the year?  Who’s going to buy them?  Perhaps more importantly, who’s going to finance the transactions?  If you guessed “no one,” you’re probably correct.

So how could we put them to use?  Why not offer them rent-free to entrepreneurs and small business owners whom everyone seems to agree are the economic engine behind our recovery?  All the tenants would have to do is pay for their utilities and create jobs along the way.  The program could be limited to a reasonable number of years at which time the companies would emerge from the incubator and stand on their own.  It seems that this approach would return more ongoing revenue to the government in the form of taxes than the one-time capital infusion of a fire sale.

Republicans should love this approach because it’s all about jobs and small businesses.  Democrats should love the program because it will stimulate the economy and create a larger tax base.  Heck, it might even create a few rich people to tax along the way!

Would you like more ideas?  How about accepting the offer that the CEO of IBM made to the President in the Fall of last year?  Sam Palmisano offered President Obama IBM’s software and consulting assistance to identify $900 billion in medical fraud within the federal budget … for free.  Did I mention that it was for free (as opposed to the nearly $1 trillion price tag of Health Care Reform)?

The President apparently didn’t like the deal.  Maybe he was hoping IBM would offer to match the savings.  Benefactors do things like that in community organizing initiatives.  Unfortunately, we’re talking about the real world here.

Who among us would have turned down Mr. Palmisano’s offer?  It takes a very special ego to do something that ridiculous.

In his speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President Obama said, “In addition to making government more affordable, we’re also making it more effective and customer-friendly.  We’re trying to run the government more like you run your businesses – with better technology and faster services.  In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.  And we want to start with the twelve different agencies that deal with America’s exports.”  How about starting with the 159 new agencies the Health Care Reform Bill created (assuming the Bill survives the courts)?  Let’s try to rationalize how they can be combined before we allow them to take on a life of their own.

Would it make sense to dismiss the 40 Czars the President has appointed?  That should save a ton of money.

How about collecting the $1 billion in back taxes that are owed by federal employees … and/or terminating them … or would that get rid of too many Cabinet Members? 

Perhaps a few less campaign trips by the President and his entourage would also be in order.

Our country is in dire need of a turnaround.  Having facilitated turnarounds in the private sector for 30 years, I can assure you they require quick and decisive action; something that’s lacking in the approaches of either of our major Parties.  Decisions have to be pragmatic, and personal feelings and friendships (or political ambitions and debts) have to be put aside.  The suggestions in this article are just common sense solutions that we are not hearing from our politicians.  Are there a myriad of others?  Of course, there are, but it’s beyond the scope of a column to explore them.  Who knows?  Maybe The Common Sense Czar will be coming to a city near you.  Maybe … he’ll even drop by Washington, D.C.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.


This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, The Common Sense Czar, in the Communities Section of The Washington Times.