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Why can’t Congress aim higher?


By Lee Hamilton

Fri, Dec 6th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

Congressional budget negotiators are moving to meet a December 13 deadline to produce, well, something. For weeks, we’ve been told to keep expectations low. There’ll be no “grand bargain,” negotiators say. Commentators believe that even the narrowest agreement will be a signal achievement. So here’s my question: Doesn’t that seem like an awfully low bar to you?

Yes, I know. The atmosphere on Capitol Hill is poisonous. The two parties — even the various factions within the parties — can barely stand to be in a room with each other. Expecting a sizable budget accomplishment from Congress right now is like expecting water from a rock. It would take a miracle.

Yet there are consequences to not producing an agreement capable of clarifying fiscal affairs. Right now, government agencies cannot plan ahead; they can’t consider long-term projects; they have trouble with staffing; they can’t set priorities; they’re forced to fund programs that have outlived their usefulness and cannot fund programs they know are necessary. And that’s just the federal bureaucracy. Contractors and people who depend on federal spending can’t plan, either. Our economy can’t achieve liftoff, and millions of ordinary Americans remain mired by its slow growth. Washington faces tough choices about spending, taxes, and entitlements, and Congress isn’t making them.

Things are not wholly bleak. Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the lead House negotiator, and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington, who heads up the Senate team, have been working at least to address the sequester. As you’ll recall, this is the draconian set of across-the-board budget cuts put in place in 2011. At first, many agencies were able to defer maintenance, spend money they’d squirreled away, and cut staff by attrition. This next year will be much tougher: agencies are out of easy options, and defense spending faces an immense, $21 billion cut. That will be felt in every congressional district in the country, given how adept the Defense Department has been at spreading its largesse around. Not surprisingly, pressure is coming from both sides of the aisle to ease the impact.

The sequester is a cleaver, cutting good and bad government spending without rhyme or reason. If congressional negotiators can take a smarter approach, that’s all to the good.

But if they’re going to do that, shouldn’t they address the real prob .....
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Give us the torch

Fri, Dec 6th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

Last time we met, I talked about the power and significance behind the untimely and horrific death of our 35th President, John F. Kennedy. This time, I’d like to reflect on slightly happier times that occurred a few years earlier. In what is consi ..... 
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Guest Commentary: Obama Care - how does it work?

Fri, Nov 29th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Dale J. Eppen How Obama Care Is Supposed To Work Obama Care uses what are called EXCHANGES that we can go through to buy health insurance. No one buys insurance from the exchange. In Minnesota we elected to set up our own state exchange. We ..... 
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Thanksgiving

By Yvonne Nyenhuis

Fri, Nov 22nd, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

Last month it was time to be “scared.” This month it’s time to be “thankful.” It’s November. I look out the window and watch the leaves fall. Each leaf is part of a mysterious pattern. It has its own time to leave the tree: whirls abou ..... 
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Dogged journalism is a blessing, not a curse

By Lee Hamilton

Fri, Nov 22nd, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

Let’s start with the obvious: A democracy needs intelligence agencies. It needs to know what’s happening in the world — and understand the plans of allies and enemies — to keep the nation prepared and secure. If intelligence work is going ..... 
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One Moment, Please... What are you thankful for?

Fri, Nov 22nd, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

First, happy Thanksgiving to all of you who will be enjoying a day off from work on Thursday, November 28, 2013. And, second, I am saddened to see the devils of Retail Corporate America shamelessly working their employees on an important family day ..... 
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Guest Commentary: Obamacare

Fri, Nov 15th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Jim Hagedorn Obamacare roll-out has begun and the early results are less than exemplary. I will not mince words; Obamacare is an unmitigated disaster. The well-documented bureaucratic bungling and serious implementation problems currently emba ..... 
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Time to fish or cut bait on tax

By Lee Hamilton

Fri, Nov 15th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

As Congress moves forward on budget negotiations, the word out of Washington is to expect nothing major: no grand bargain, just more stopgap, short-term fixes. Yet there’s one ray of hope. The House and Senate chairs of the tax-writing committees, ..... 
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The torch still burns

Fri, Nov 15th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a history teacher. I had fuzzy memories of getting a mortgage on an old farm house somewhere in the country and driving 10 to 15 minutes into a little rural town to teach kids about Neanderthals and Napoleon and Nixo ..... 
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