Absent

Absent HeaderI just read this article online.  Please take a minute to read this excerpt from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online.

Madison Law enforcement officers are searching for Democratic senators boycotting a Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair plan Thursday in an attempt to bring the lawmakers to the floor to allow Republicans to act on the bill.

As Republicans denounced the move, one Democratic senator said that he believed most of the members of his caucus are in another state. However, an aide said that at least one, Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), was still in his Capitol office listening to constituents.

In a telephone interview, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) declined to give his location but acknowledged that at least one other Democrat was with him. He said that law enforcement would be able to compel him and his members to the Senate floor if they are located in Wisconsin.

“I can tell you this – we’re not all in one place,” Miller said. “This is a watershed moment unlike any that we have experienced in our political lifetimes. The people have shown that the government has gone too far . . .  We are prepared to do what is necessary to make sure that this bill gets the consideration it needs.”

Fighting Quorum

Basically, the Wisconsin legislature (under the governor’s direction) is trying to pass legislation that significantly reduces  the ability of unions in the state to hold the upper-hand in negotiating contracts with the government.  This would enable them to set salaries and benefits for state workers that are more reasonable in light of the seriousness of the government’s economic situation.

The reaction in Wisconsin has been teacher strikes, marches on the state capitol, and loud complaining by Democrats.  Though of course state workers would want to have the best bargaining positions possible, the state is facing a $3 billion shortfall in its budget over the next 2 years.  That means they are going to have to make serious cuts, or  face bankruptcy.

Democrats feel they have no choice but to resist this.  The unions are both a major source of funding and voters, although there is no chance that the union voters will abandon them even if this passes.  However, the Republicans have a majority in the Wisconsin congress, so the Democrats can’t do much to stop them.  The Dems were in a situation where they could not possibly win.

So the Democrats left.  They walked out and hid.  This would seem silly, except that it creates a problem in parliamentary procedure, the rules that govern how the legislature is run.  In order to take a valid vote, the legislature needs something called quorum.  Quorum is the number of members that must be present in order for any action to be valid, and is greater than the number it takes to pass a law.

The quorum rule was created to prevent a minority from holding a secret session, or meeting during some sort of emergency that prevented most members from attending, and passing some strange law.  But the rule of quorum was never intended to be used as a blunt instrument to prevent democracy from working when a minority didn’t like what was happening.  This kind of action is unfortunately not atypical of the kind of tactics that Democrats have played throughout the years, but it is a very bad sign for the gridlock that could be coming in many states and nationally.

What neither the state Democrats, nor anyone in the media seem to be asking is, “What is the best thing to do for the state’s $3 billion defecit?”

The Real World

America needs to wake up!  Nationally for the first time since World War 2, our country owes more money than we have in our entire budget.  The national debt is currently $14 trillion, with total obligations above $55 trillion.  But these numbers seem to be too big to really wrap one’s mind around.  So maybe an easier scale would help to make this all make more sense.

Let’s say a small family (father, mother, and small child) have a yearly income of $50,000.  But by the end of this year, the family will owe over $50,000 to the credit card companies, more than their entire income for the year.  All of that would be a difficult situation, but not impossible.  The problem is that every month, even though the family gets a salary of over $4,166, they are keep spending $4,582.  So, each month they are more than $400 in debt more than the month before.  This is obviously an impossible situation.  It won’t be long before the credit card companies cut the family’s credit line and sue them.  They will go bankrupt.

Any family would have to sit down and start cutting their budget.  That might mean moving to a smaller house or apartment, selling a car, not eating out.  They would have to make these changes, no matter how much they didn’t want to.  Anything that was not necessary to keep them alive would have to be cut so that they would be able to pay off the debt.

But many in America are loath to see this happen nationally.  There have been protests over the proposed de-funding of PBS.  Recently, some lawmakers even held a press conference with characters dressed as cartoons from popular PBS series, trying to drum up support to “save these shows.”  On the radio, callers have talked about the Republicans “killing Big Bird.”

Killing Big Bird

No one wants to “kill big bird.”  These TV shows are important in American culture and life.  Many children have learned important things from these programs.  But they are just that, TV shows.  PBS can go away if need be, and America will go on, children will learn about the alphabet, and people will be forced to go to the opera instead of just watching it on television.  People will miss PBS.  Maybe the arts will be less supported and there won’t be as many educational TV shows.  Everyone would miss PBS.  No one likes to reduce spending.

The point is that things must be cut.  Some of these things will be government programs that people love, and often count on.  There will probably be few if any budget items that no one will miss, in the same way that the fictional family in the previous illustration will probably miss going to the movies and living in their 4 bedroom house.  But the truth is that there are very few, if any, government programs that don’t affect anyone in some way.  And if any do exist, they aren’t taking up that much of the budget anyway.

When the Democrats walk out of legislatures and hold press conferences with cartoon characters they send a clear message that they are unwilling to do the difficult things that must be done to save the country.  They also send a clear message that their political power and fund raising efforts are more important than the good of America.  If the country is going to pull itself out of this horrible mess, this kind of budgetary brinkmanship must be avoided at all costs. -Ryan

4 Replies to “Absent”

  1. Morally, I do believe in cutting sending. But I also have to make myself start calling it what it is – it is not just cutting spending, it is cutting jobs. If you eliminate PBS, a whole lot of people will lose jobs. It is hard to wholeheartedly support cuts in spending when your job is on the line. My job is one of those on the line if Rick Perry’s budget gets passed. While I want a balanced budget, I don’t want to lose my job and then have to compete with all of my current co-workers for the few job openings out there. I used to say I could always fall back on my teaching certificate. Not anymore, it seems.

    Thing is, when you cut spending, people lose jobs. They stop spending themselves, and the states lose more money and have to cut even more jobs. So, if we don’t cut spending, we go bankrupt. If we do cut spending, it will send us a spiral to bankruptcy. The family analogy you use breaks down because a family that cuts spending really doesn’t affect anyone but that family. States and countries that cut spending in the wrong places can start a downward spiral to ruin.

    I’m not really sure what the answer is. We’re pretty screwed either way.

    But, having said all that, it still doesn’t excuse these senators from acting like babies.

  2. Yes, I agree with your point. Any spending cuts are going to end up shedding at least some jobs. Fortunately, in reality government defunding of PBS (which most likely will never actually happen) would only reduce PBS’ budget partially. Remember their “pledge drives”?

    I was listening to some of the Tea Party and conservative pundits being interviewed late last night. They were talking about how the real challenge is to cut the budget without destroying America’s economy. When jobs are destroyed, so are people’s ability to pay taxes. The government goes bankrupt anyway.

    It was a great interview. I heard it while working in my garage, on Public Radio.

    The purpose of my analogy was not to make a perfect representation, but to show how ludicrous our deficit problem is. I don’t envy politicians attacking this issue, but I am disgusted at political games being played in these serious times.

  3. Yeah – it is pretty ludicrous. In Texas it is an even more disgusting game, because all we have to do raise taxes slightly and dip into the rainy day fund in addition to some minor cuts and we can cover it. But hair boy in Austin refuses to look at taxes or the rainy day fund. If this isn’t rainy day, then what is? I don’t want taxes as much as the next person (if the next person is a Republican that is), but we can’t just slash everything and destroy the economy. We only have to come up with around $50 per person per month in Texas for the next two years to cover even the worst shortfall predictions. Instead of slashing the budget, why not make it a mix of minor tax increases, small budget cuts, and a slight dip into the rainy day fund? Politicians….

  4. I like “hair boy.” That is funny. I mean I like the term, not the politician. He hasn’t been the worst ever, but he seems to politician-y for me. I am not sure what I think on raising taxes. It always seems really easy to raise taxes whenever the government wants more. But in this case, I probably agree with you. There are definitely some porky things that need to get cut, though.

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