07/31/2011 06:42 pm ET | Updated Sep 30, 2011

After the Debt Ceiling, What's Next?

It appears that at the last moment, and only after we have made ourselves look like idiots on the world stage, we will have a deal to raise the debt ceiling. Somebody finally remembered that we have a social contract, with both each other and with the rest of the world. Or maybe it shouldn't be called a social contract; it's a financial contract.

Few people are concerned about the elderly, the poor, and the sick. Rather, this debt deal, like everything else, is driven by fear of disturbing the Asian markets. We are worrying about the downgrade, not the citizens. We citizens, by the way, lost our credit ratings three years ago, around the time when we lost our homes.

For the last three weeks, every sentient American has suffered from a cross between growing outrage, impotent depression, and downright embarrassment at how inept and corrupt our government is. We might as well declare a "failed state."

And if there is a debt deal, who will have made it? It wasn't our elected officials, and it wasn't the media. Instead, it was hundreds of thousands of individuals who began calling and tweeting their representatives saying, in essence "do something -- even if it's wrong." We finally united around something we can all agree on: the government's broken.

The nation is deeply divided over the role and size of government. Half of us think government owes a duty to protect the old, the sick, and the poor, and to educate our children. The other half think that's naive sentimentalism we can no longer afford because of our big debts and deficits, and that the private sector could perform those functions more efficiently. These people believe government should do little more than wage wars and keep the peace.

To me this dichotomy is absurd. It's not a question of either/or -- it's more a matter of how do we get "there" from here.

No one is arguing against deficit reduction. And no one is arguing against change to the entitlement programs (although I don't consider getting my own tax money back as an "entitlement.").

The "American People," whoever we are, only want a better economy. We just want decent lives for ourselves and our kids. We didn't hire all those workers into the federal government, and we didn't start 2.5 simultaneous wars. We are not on the take from corporate lobbyists.

It makes perfect sense that we may need to raise more revenue in the short term, make the economy stronger, and then cut the size of government and its programs in the long term. The problem in the past has always been that "long term," which never arrives.

We need to end the wars, and perhaps foreign aid. We need to shift the burden of health care costs to the individual rather than to the employer, the insurance company, or the government, and then shift the individual's focus to self-care. We don't need all the doctoring we receive, and if we got less of it we might find ways to take care of ourselves, rather than running ourselves into the ground and collapsing at the door of the emergency room to be fixed.

But we still need to educate our children, especially if we ever want to hold our place in the global marketplace.

Every time I have one of these discussions, I find I am in agreement with libertarians, with progressives, with independents. We can all agree on some things, and together we can create a mosaic of what we all think is right. If the Congress would only get out of our way.

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