- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2011


The recent government debt-reduction deal hammered out in high drama was not just a riveting piece of political theater. It represented the almost paralyzing ambivalence of the American people in deciding just what must be done and what must be sacrificed in order to get us out of debt and back on the road to prosperity.

In response to the partisan wrangling leading up to the deal, a CNN poll announced that 77 percent of Americans believe Congress and the executive branch were acting like “spoiled children.”

That is, they wanted to have their cake and eat it, too. A rash of editorial responses in the major rags also pointed to a “dysfunctional political process.” But I think it goes a lot deeper than that. It’s not just the politicians who were having difficulty deciding what to keep and what to give up. They were expressing the general frustration of the American people - a citizenry that has become so accustomed to its creature comforts that it cannot bear to do without them, even if it’s for its own good. The politicians did their job in representing their constituencies - perhaps no faction as faithfully as the tea party - but it is the American people who are having trouble deciding what to do.

In the end, a smaller deal that contained less cuts than necessary to get the debt under control, but no immediate tax increases, won the day. In the end, the American people, President Obama included, decided that they would rather pay the government less and get less, than pay more and get less. Now we’re getting somewhere.

The more money that stays in the people’s pockets, the better. Because time and again the government has shown that it is incapable of having more fiscal discipline than the average spoiled child. To wit: A grossly underfunded social insurance system that has been subjected to constant raids by the politicians, two unfunded and adventurous wars on foreign soil, and a massive bailout of banks and the auto industry - all paid for with debt.

Now as for the gritty details of the so-called spending cuts, most of them come from savings on interest payments on the national debt. However, if certain reductions are not made in the bipartisan congressional supercommittee to be formed to wrangle out the spending issues, certain automatic triggers will occur.

Off the table for the triggers are Social Security and Medicare. But on the table are significant cuts to defense. If we look at the structure, a clear pattern seems to be emerging. The deal forces the Republican leadership - House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (each of whom have high defense industry constituencies) to actually lead.

That is, to get anywhere without getting their pet projects getting cut, or worse, honestly inspected for fraud, waste and abuse, they will have to persuade the Republican rank-and-file to concede on revenue issues that are almost certain to be introduced by Democrats in ongoing negotiations.

But the fundamental message has to be the same. Conspicuous consumption will cease to be the lingua franca of the American people for the foreseeable future.

Instead, we will have to let the natural process of deleveraging that has taken place in the private sector also extend to the public sector. Government largesse must give way to smaller and more efficient means of providing essential services. In fact, there is going to have to be a redefinition of just what government services and programs are really “essential.”

Armstrong Williams is on Sirius Power 128, 7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m., Mondays through Fridays. Become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arightside, and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/arightside. Read his content on RightSideWire.com.

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