As a sports reporter during the first phase of my newspaper career, I spent a fair amount of time interviewing high school coaches in their offices.
Many of those coaches had inspirational writings on their walls or desks, and a few of them stayed with me, including one that read: “It’s amazing how much we can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit.”
Sadly, that ideal is the exact opposite of how our federal and often state governments operate. If our lawmakers and president wanted to be honest, here’s the writing that would adorn their office walls: “It’s amazing how little we can accomplish if we focus on blaming others.”
Adding greatly to the problem is that many of us flock to cable TV news networks and talk radio stations that should have the latter quote as their mission statements. And then we have the wealthiest individuals and groups among us donating millions to buy political influence. Those donors aren’t paying for compromise.
I got to thinking what might happen if we could enter a dream world in which that quote I read so many years ago drove our political process.
Let’s start with immigration. The Democrats want to allow an estimated 1.8 million illegal immigrants (the exact number is unclear) brought to this country before their 18th birthday to stay. The Trump administration appears agreeable in exchange for $18 billion toward a southern border wall and other tighter security measures, and restructuring the visa system to favor work skills over family ties.
So why not do the deal? Neither side gets what their extremist members want, but that’s how compromise works.
But why stop there? The Democrats might use this as a stepping stone to ask Republicans to strengthen and/or amend what’s come to be known as Obamacare. This would accomplish two things. It would give more people access to health care and end the silly blame game on this vital issue.
It appears that the Republicans never objected so much to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Their real problem is they couldn’t tolerate giving then-President Barack Obama and the Democrats a “political victory.”
But after dozens of votes in Congress to repeal Obamacare while Obama was president, and President Donald Trump repeatedly calling it a “disaster,” the Republicans haven’t offered a coherent alternative. Mainly, it appears their plan is a return to the pre-Obamacare era in which the healthy and wealthy were gladly covered by the private sector, while the poor and unhealthy got jettisoned to the “government.”
Now, even Republican Gov. Scott Walker said recently that people shouldn’t be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, a main component of Obamacare. So why not stop the blame game and work toward a middle ground for the good of our nation?
Most recently the focus is on “infrastructure.” One thing all sides appear to agree on is that our roads, bridges, dams, etc., need major repairs and upgrades. The plan before us is for the Trump administration and Congress to allocate $200 billion and offer it as a matching fund incentive for state and local governments to kick in hundreds of billions of their own money.
In the midst of this came this past Monday’s unveiling of the proposed $4.4 trillion fiscal year 2019 federal budget, which calls for $984 million in deficit spending. So much for the recent tax cut paying for itself through economic growth.
Borrowing is the federal lawmakers’ default plan for everything, as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., clearly explained in a recent speech. Paul irritated his colleagues because he took to the Senate floor to delay a vote to borrow hundreds of billions more to avoid a federal government shutdown. That vote eventually occurred, and if implemented would likewise balloon the national debt well beyond its current $20 trillion.
One reason we borrow so much for infrastructure is because the 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gasoline tax hasn’t gone up in 25 years, and the 32.9 cent-per-gallon Wisconsin gasoline tax was last raised 12 years ago. That’s why Wisconsin is borrowing $400 million in the current biennium for transportation projects and sending the bill to future taxpayers.
Wouldn’t a reasonable compromise be to raise the gas tax (user fee) to help pay for better roads, etc.? Of course it would, but that would require both sides to agree, and they’d rather point fingers across the aisle.
Compromise is next to impossible because the blueprint for progress our forefathers laid out for us is broken, possibly beyond repair. Borrowing nearly a trillion dollars in a single year when we’re at full employment and low inflation is crazy. Everybody knows it, but nothing will be done about it.
You know why? Because Washington is dominated by people who care about who gets the credit and who can be assigned blame at the exclusion of everything else. And too many of us play right along.
Huebscher is a contributing columnist and former Leader-Telegram editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.