As a political junkie, for years I've watched with twisted fascination Washington's favorite Kabuki dance: very powerful people striding with great purpose in and out of meeting rooms. Exciting stuff — if you're a recluse. • Sometimes they galumph into meeting rooms on Capitol Hill, or some lesser office. Sometimes they walk into the White House, which requires an even more solemn-minded demeanor when one is on one's way to discuss the great issues of the day with the leader of the free world.
There's an art to this. One must appear to be in a studied hurry to get behind the mysterious closed door, as if one possesses just the needed erudite brilliance to solve the problem at hand — unless a camera crew is nearby.
Perhaps you too have wondered what it is that these influential pols talk about? And why does it take so long to say whatever it is they say to each other?
And now we know. Not much. But it seems everyone is quite verbose about it all.
In recent years it's become rather the Beltway vogue to create gangs of this or that, mostly made up of doughy middle-aged men, to undertake negotiations to resolve highly partisan issues. The Crips and the Bloods these are not.
In recent months the once-Gang of Six has been meeting to resolve matters related to raising the nation's debt ceiling. The problem would seem on its face fairly simple. Unless the nation's debt ceiling is raised to a gazillion dollars squared by early August, the country's international credit rating will fall somewhere between Burkina Faso and the hapless indicted former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White.
But before approving an increase in the debt ceiling, Republicans have insisted the federal government tighten its own belt and cut down on reckless spending, like giving poor people medical care. Hence the Gang of Six, which was originally made up of Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, along with Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Mark Warner of Virginia. Now there's some gangsta homies for you.
Vice President Joe Biden was named to facilitate the jawboning and make sure lunch was served.
Alas, after many months of countless meetings, the Gang of Six apparently hasn't been able to agree on much of anything. In fact, it's not even the Gang of Six anymore, but the Gang of Five, after Coburn perhaps grew weary of being locked up in a room listening to Biden telling Robert Byrd jokes all day long.
Or put another way, all these folks who were elected to go to Washington and deal with issues like how much the government should spend, instead found themselves unable, or unwilling, to do the heavy lifting of their job descriptions.
In a sense, the Gang of Six-Minus One represents a pretty good example of what's wrong with politics these days. Really, how hard should this be?
If there is a budget problem in most households, people basically do two things: reduce spending and figure out a way to increase revenue. Insert "Duh" here.
There's merely one difference between the average American's ledger books and the federal government — the somewhat untidy $14.5 trillion debt Washington has managed to accumulate. Think of this as the Hangover II of governmental due diligence.
Aside from schlepping from meeting to meeting, if the political intelligentsia was remotely serious about tackling the national debt it would begin to admit to a few uncomfortable realities.
If you are a Democrat you will not fill a $14.5 trillion hole by simply raising taxes, unless you also are willing to fiddle around with entitlement spending on stuff like Social Security and Medicare, as well as defense.
If you are a Republican you will not address the debt problem by opposing an increase in taxes, or at least making sure wealthy people and corporations pay their fair share of the tax burden they should be paying anyway. When General Electric, which made a profit of $14.2 billion last year, paid zero in corporate taxes, something is horribly nuts.
And Wesley Snipes went to jail for not paying his taxes?
For both sides, the debt crisis won't be solved if every time someone offers a proposal Washington's special interest lobbies start sobbing uncontrollably while accusing the offending politico of being an anti-American sot with Marxist and/or fascist tendencies.
A few days ago, the Gang of … Whatever simply gave up, tossing the whole mess into the laps of President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
It is said a meeting has been scheduled. Now we're getting somewhere.