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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss with Judy Woodruff the failure of the latest budget deal to address larger fiscal problems and Washington's inability to make tough choices.

From the PBS Newshour: on 1-4-12:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, if there was a fight over -- if there is a fight coming over Chuck Hagel, there has been an even bigger fight for the last weeks, months, David, over the fiscal cliff, and whatever it has been called since we first heard about it.

Is the country better off because of what this Congress passed finally at -- on New Year's Day, the day after New Year's?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, no, I think we are immeasurably worse off. I think it was a complete failure.

Listen, what did we want out of this? The president wanted a balance deal with some tax increases and some spending cuts. We didn't get a balanced deal. There were no real spending cuts. Second, we could have -- we could have done something to address our long-term debt. That was the whole purpose behind this whole thing.

We did nothing to address our long-term debt and almost nothing to reduce deficits over the next 10 years. We could have had a stimulus package to have some short-term economic growth, which was talked about. We did nothing to do that. We did nothing to help reform entitlements.

We could have put these endless budget fights behind us, so we could get on to talk about immigration. We didn't do that either.

We're going to have a reconciliation -- or we're going to have a sequestration fight, a debt ceiling fight. We're going to spend the next months, at least, having these sorts of fights again and again and again.

So this deal, to me, fails on every single front and leaves us worse off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you that negative about it?

MARK SHIELDS: No. I mean, I feel like, who, Holly Golightly, compared to David.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, David -- David is -- you know, I'm just -- as I listen to him, I'm ready to slit my wrists, for goodness' sakes.

But, no, I don't think it was -- when both sides basically admit seemingly that they lost, it is probably not a great victory for anybody. The president insisted on going in there had to be $1.6 trillion in new revenues. John Boehner offered $800 billion. And they settled for $600 billion. That's not exactly a great triumph. At the same...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, who's responsible?

MARK SHIELDS: Who's responsible?

Judy, I mean, we have -- Bob Dole, who's a great man and a great Republican senator, said, on Capitol Hill, we love to make tough speeches. We don't like to make tough choices.

And the fact is that the American people, who want all the benefits and want the free lunch, and don't want a single gray hair on the beautiful head of Social Security or Medicare touched, and basically don't want to pay for it, I mean, the old line is, we elect Republicans because we don't want to pay for it and we elect Democrats because we want everything that government is going to give us.

And it's sort of a terrible, terrible conundrum and dilemma. So, we looked in the mirror to see whose fault there is. But I would say there has been lack of leadership as far as sacrifice across the board.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House.

MARK SHIELDS: The White House, to the Congress, to our national leadership, to us in the press as well, I guess, to spell out.

Look, we want people to be covered. We want people to have the coverage. There are some of us who can afford coverage, and we're still getting those benefits.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You're talking about Medicare, Social Security, retirement benefits.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Yes, exactly.

And we're not going to have enough money to provide that coverage for everybody. And we do want to provide it for those who need it most.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I completely agree.

We blame politics, always say Washington is all dysfunctional. They're responding reasonably efficiently to what the American people want, which is to take the future's money and spend it on ourselves.

And so what we are looking at, the next generation, according to the IMF, is going to have one-third fewer benefits and one-third higher taxes if we act now.

If we wait five years, it will be 50 percent more taxes, 50 percent fewer benefits. It is just terrible for the future generations. So I do think it starts with the American people. Nonetheless, I do blame everyone else, too, including us, I guess.

But I would blame the Republicans for saying they want to control spending, talking of beating their chests about it, but they don't have a strategy, because they don't actually have the guts to propose spending cuts. And so they talk about the debt, the debt, the debt for years and years. They finally have a chance to propose some actual reforms.

They can't do it, because they think it would be unpopular. And then to criticize the president, I think he could have given a speech laying out exactly where we are as a country, rally public opinion behind the need to do something.

And, for Democrats, I would say, you want to pretend you're -- you want to protect valuable programs, Head Start, early childhood, well, Medicare is basically eating away at all that.

And if you don't tackle Medicare, you are going to have less for all the stuff you want to do. So who do you care more about, the rich elderly or the poor young? And you have got to make that call.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's interesting you both are saying this, because so much of the criticism this week has been directed at the speaker of the House, John Boehner, struggling with his Republican Caucus.

MARK SHIELDS: He did, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So was that criticism deserved?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I mean, John Boehner -- John Boehner tried to do a political thing, which was to try to preempt the president and the Democrats with his plan B, which was to raise taxes on millionaires, and not on others.

And he couldn't get the votes out of his own caucus to do it. And so at that point, I mean, there are 50 people in that caucus, Judy, who basically will not go for anything. And they proved it when the final fiscal cliff bill came before the House and it had to be passed.

So, I mean, John Boehner then found himself rolled, went over to the Senate. He had no choice. And he's got a real restless, restive constituency in that Republican House caucus. He came within three votes of not being reelected as speaker. I mean, members sat on the floor and didn't vote. I mean, others -- you know, so he's in a very precarious position.

I don't know why he wants to be speaker at this point, I mean, given the difficulty of the job and the precariousness of his position. I mean, I think he's a very able legislator. I think he believes in the legislative process, but -- and I think he is a grownup. But, boy, he's got a tough row ahead of him.

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