The Debt Ceiling Debate Provides an Opportunity for Change

07/18/2011 05:27 pm ET | Updated Sep 17, 2011

Americans, like citizens of any other nation past and present, have much to say about government spending. As taxpayers, of course, it is a right they own. The government runs because they add to its coffers, and the government must answer to the demands of the People. Of the two Congressional houses, the House of Representatives holds a greater responsibility when dealing with how the government invests the money it collects from hardworking Americans. The events of 2010 and 2011 that have led to near stalemates between the legislative and executive branches will receive the judgment of history in due time. In the meantime, the government must reach a decision that is devoid of political concerns; a statement easier to write than to make happen.

Rhetoric that closes doors

In 2010 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Considering the state of the American economy, a high unemployment rate, and millions of foreclosures these are not the words Americans of any party want to hear from their leaders.

Politicians tend to forget, or perhaps don't know, that their role is to represent all their constituents, irrespective of their political affiliation. Unemployment does not discriminate. The homes of both Democrats and Republicans are facing foreclosure. Sickness and poverty do not bend to political rhetoric.

These are problems that require the unbiased minds of politicians. They are not talking points to fire up a political base. With this understanding, politicians will measure their words appropriately, and will work on behalf of the people, regardless of the expectations of any particular political base.

Actions that speak for themselves

Winning elections is not about defeating the other party. When a party wins an election they do not necessarily hold a mandate from the people. Oftentimes a party loses an election because it failed to deliver promises made, not because they did what they promised. Republicans, for instance, misunderstood the results of the 2010 elections. The results were a message to Obama and Congressional Democrats that their base expected much more from them.

Obama campaigned on massive change. He made promises that excited even those that did not support him. The election results of 2008 were a definite mandate for Obama and Congressional Democrats. Interestingly, Democrats spent their first two years, with massive numbers in both houses, protecting themselves from a potential loss in 2010. They failed to see the mandate, and their own base turned against them.

Issues that must cross party lines

Two major issues that should have no party affiliations are fiscal responsibility and generation of revenue. The United States government has failed at both, and both major parties share the blame equally. They have taken opposite sides in issues that cross party lines in mainstream America.

Generating revenues

The government must generate revenue in order to operate efficiently. Americans expect to drive on roads free of potholes. They want their parks manicured and blossoming. They want to ride in the best commuting system possible. Many believe that the answer rests in privatization. The idea that corporate America can take care of itself, and of the American people, is lost in the airline industry, for example. Americans fly safer and with less delays because of governmental involvement. The government imposes and oversees requirements that the airlines consider cumbersome. Corporate America tends to cut corners, and no one wants to have that cloud over their head when flying over the clouds.

The greatest problem with generating revenue in America does not lie on how much tax Americans pay. The root of the problem is how little the biggest income generators in America pay. General Electric (GE) has reportedly paid $0 in taxes in 2010, and has obtained a refund from the U.S. Treasury. GE refutes this, but according to GE chief spokesman Gary Sheffer, it expects "to have a small U.S. income tax liability for 2010." GE will not disclose how small is small, an in its "GE's response to New York Times' David Kocieniewski re: GE Taxes" it states that "individual country tax payments are not disclosed." According to Forbes Magazine "The most egregious example is General Electric." In 2009 "the conglomerate generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion." GE boasts that it maintains business oversees in order to avoid paying taxes in the U.S. "We expect our ability to benefit from non-U.S. income taxed at less than the U.S. rate to continue" (GE's Form 10-K 2010, p. 31).

Companies such as GE benefit from the loopholes in the American tax code. These loopholes allow them to invest in the economies of other countries, while depriving the U.S. from revenues and employment.

Fiscal Responsibility

How the government spends its revenue must be part of the equation. Republicans decry the notion of big government, but they have done very little to downsize it, and, in the past 10 years, they have been major players in its increase. One only needs to recall a handful of examples: the Department of Homeland Security, No Child Left Behind, and the American Dream Downpayment Fund. To this one can add the expense of carrying two wars.

Federal agencies are major culprits on wasteful spending. Congress may slash their budgets, but it does very little to change how they spend them. Agencies continue to waste their budgets on large electrical bills, unnecessary equipment, excessive printing, unproductive contracting, and unwarranted hiring. There are offices within and without agencies that perform the same functions. A comprehensive change in how the government operates must begin sooner rather than later.

Republicans are wrongly concentrating on entitlement reform. Entitlements are an investment through the taxes Americans pay, and they have a rightful claim to them. It is true that the government needs to reform the structure of entitlements, from collecting revenues to delivery. Nevertheless, Republicans have made entitlements an abhorrence; something to attack and destroy. This will only serve to alienate the many Republicans that depend on the vilified entitlements.

The time is now

There is no better time for Democrats and Republicans to come together and show that they are greater than the politics that separate them. Perhaps Speaker John Boehner was right when he said "this is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you that we will not compromise on our principles." Neither party should feel that they have to compromise when it comes to doing the right thing by the American people. If both parties are working towards improving the lives of their constituents, they will not need to compromise; they just need to come together.