Governing Folly: Wisconsin & Washington, D.C.

Raising the speed limit on governing folly, Republicans in Madison, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. have lately been accelerating toward what can only end up being the sort of economic “train wreck” many in the GOP are claiming, falsely, the ACA already is. But the rest of us can slow down and begin to think clearly about American democracy and how we wish to be represented in the halls of government.

A typical speed limit sign in the United State...
A typical speed limit sign in the United States showing a 50 mph restriction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here in Wisconsin, Gov. Walker & Company is swiftly moving through the process of returning $100 million to taxpayers in the form of property tax relief. This will amount to about $33 over two years for a household. Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled State Assembly has approved (with 8 Democrats) raising the speed limit to 70 mph on interstate highways; should the speed limit bill pass as seems likely, it will result in the taxpayer rebate being largely used to pay for the gasoline burned at the higher speed. So the Walker tax-cut coupled with the new speed limit could be viewed as a sort of back door subsidy to the oil corporations. Surely most Wisconsin taxpayers can see through Walker’s obvious political pandering.

What could our state government do with an extra $100 million? Help the public schools. Invest in poor urban and rural communities. Fund more health care in the state. This is, of course, the job of government: Collect taxes and use the large pool of money to help the most needy. A government is not a household that requires a strict budget and a large savings account. A government is more like a collective or a co-op in which people buy-in for the sake of the larger community. A democratic government is supposed to do what individuals and businesses often cannot do or not do as easily– maintain public infrastructure and make sure that one group of citizens (rich and powerful) does not exploit another group of citizens (less rich, less powerful.) A truly democratic government acts as a check and seeks a balance opposed to the natural tendency of global capitalism. Thanks to many years of anti-government propaganda, too many Americans have forgotten or simply deny the benefits of what government at all levels does, however imperfectly.

Which brings us to political events in our nation’s capital. Or as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) put it, the “politics of idiocy.” Or as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) put it, according to The Hill: “By the time we made the deal we [Republicans] were at 75 percent disapproval. Not a whole lot of leverage when 75 percent of the people don’t like what you’re doing.” If nothing else, the shutdown and the debt crisis (and polls) have shown that the American people now understand precisely how necessary a fully functioning federal government is. Unfortunately, this civics lesson cost the nation’s economy about $24 billion, according to a Standard & Poor’s analysis.

As I write, the House of Representatives has passed the Senate agreement to open the government and raise the debt ceiling, a capitulation that marks a significant if small victory for Democrats and democracy, given that the bill buys only a few months of fiscal sanity and continues the sequester cuts to federal programs. So as D.C. budget negotiations soon get under way once again, to what can Democrats and everyone else look to as a model of prudent and moral fiscal policy? I think we should turn to those political radicals we don’t hear much of these days in our continuous mainstream media stream. I mean the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Perhaps it’s time for a more intelligent, generous sort of extremism, ideas which seem extreme only because we as a nation have lately put more stock in stocks, technology and fear– the “security” of excessive wealth, military might and the undoing of our civil liberties.

The CPC has put forth a budget plan it calls the “Budget for All” which places the emphasis on investing in people and sustainable work rather than in rewarding greed and militarism, while greatly reducing the deficit over the long-term– cutting $6.8 trillion by 2022. We might have to eventually put more money into health care (a single payer system), or address why our private health care costs are so high. But I humbly suggest that Wisconsin and the nation calmly consider the merits of directly investing in what helps people, not very wealthy people. The alternative is likely to be the folly of more thoughtless speeding toward something we can’t at the last-minute avoid.

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