The Debt and Budget Commission -- An Opportunity for Presidential Leadership

Members of Congress and political leaders, right, centrist or left, should avoid too quick an endorsement or criticism of the some of the preliminarily disclosed recommendations of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Co-chaired by Erskine Bowles, President Clinton's former Chief of Staff, and former Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson, the Commission's recommendations require the agreement of 14 of its members to become formal "recommendations of the Commission"

Commission co-chair Bowles said unlike the current economic crisis, which was largely unforeseen before it hit in fall 2008, "the coming fiscal calamity is staring the country in the face. This one is as clear as a bell. This debt is like a cancer."

The Commission provides President Obama with a unique opportunity to seize the initiative to exercise national presidential leadership on this critical issue. Contrary to some of the actions and statements of leaders of the Republican Party, The Tea Party, the Democratic Party media pundits, the Commission and its recommendations should not be marginalized, exploited or distorted by partisan debate.

Now is not the time to be squabbling over the location of chairs on the deck of the Titanic as our ship of State accelerates its collision course into a dangerous iceberg of unprecedented spending and diminishing revenues. We should be grateful that the alarm has been sounded by the Bowles-Simpson Commission.

We no longer have the luxury of focusing our attention principally on blame. We need to immediately, forthrightly and urgently focus on possible solutions.

The magnitude of the financial management of our government does not require algebra, calculus or knowledge of algorithms. It requires only an understanding of the basics of arithmetic: We are spending $3.00 for every $2.00 of revenues. How the consequences of any proposed resolution of this arithmetical fact will be applied, across the board, to all segments of the population and all agencies of government is the political challenge facing members and leaders of the Republican, Democratic and Tea Parties?

As we consider addressing the problems of needed fiscal responsibility and reform, everyone should reflect on the fact that "The top 1 percent of American earners took in 23.5 percent of the nation's pretax income in 2007 -- up from less than 9 percent in 1976. During the boom years of 2002 to 2007, that top 1 percent's pretax income increased an extraordinary 10 percent every year"

Frank Rich reminded us in his weekend Sunday New York Times column that "the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office ranks the extension of any Bush tax cuts, let alone those to the wealthiest Americans, as the least effective of 11 possible policy options for increasing employment... Incredibly, the top 1 percent of Americans now has tax rates a third lower than the same top percentile had in 1970"

"The bigger issue is whether the country can afford the systemic damage being done by the ever-growing income inequality between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else, whether poor, middle class or even rich."

Like many other people throughout the country, who at some point had either made a donation or attended some 2008 Obama election events, I continue to receive weekly emails from or David Plouffe, Obama Campaign Organizer. Last week I received the following:

"In six months, Democrats, on front porches and on the phones, reached out to more than 80 million voters across the country. Volunteers organized 36,994 events in their neighborhoods, building on an infrastructure that was already the most ambitious grassroots operation in politics."

"For get-out-the-vote weekend, you filled more than 200,000 volunteer shifts at 2,839 GOTV staging locations."

This is related to what I said in the beginning of this blog. This energy and organizational discipline need to be directed to support the President as he addresses our debt and spending crisis. It also provides what may be a rare opportunity for liberal organizations like to work cooperatively with leaders of the Tea Party.

The elevation of the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Reform and spending Commission to the nation's attention, during the post midterm elections debate, provides a special opportunity for President Obama to exercise sorely needed national political leadership on this issue.

This does not require prior agreement as to whether or not Obama is a Muslim, Christian, whether he was born in Kenya or Hawaii or agreement on the extent of the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. It only requires an ability to add "2" and "2".

Now, I know some progressives and members of the Tea Party might say on reading this that they thought the referendum proposal in the State of California for the purchase and use marijuana for medical purposes was defeated. Where is Clarence Jones getting that stuff he obviously must be smoking?

The energy and organization that went into "getting out the vote" for the midterm elections among Democrats, Republicans and members of the Tea Party should now be channeled toward getting the country to focus on saving ourselves from fiscally self-destructing

The president should propose holding Town Hall meetings across the nation. Thought should be given to asking the national television networks to set aside two hours every other week for a discussion and debate on this issue. The meetings could be moderated, for example, by representatives from Fox Television and NBC, or by representatives from online publications such as the National Review and the Huffington Post.

For the proposed national Town Hall meetings to be effective and not just grandstanding events, President Obama should invite Sarah Palin, leaders of the Tea Party, and representatives from the national State governors association to join him in organizing and conducting the proposed National Town Hall meetings across the nation.

Building a coalition to engage in a clinical analytical review of our national spending and debt also provides an opportunity for progressives to reexamine some of what sometimes appear as knee jerk "elitist" and often male chauvinist reactions and comments about Sarah Palin and Tea Party leaders like Christine O'Donnell The potential spread of the debt and spending cancer demands more caution be exercised in how we express our differences with Tea Party members. Similarly, Tea Party members should be careful to weed out the racist "crazies" in their organization.

Too much is at a stake.

Everyone should read on the wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. In a speech, in San Francisco, 1965 he said:

I'm not a consensus leader. I don't determine what is right or wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, I don't determine what is right or wrong by roaming around taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion.

Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a subject for consensus, but he is a molder of consensus. On some positions cowardice ask the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question 'Is it popular?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?'

There comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither expedient, that's neither safe, that's neither politic or that is neither popular, but he must take that stand because it is right, and that is where I find myself today.

We should ALL reflect on this advice as we continue our national journey aboard the Titanic of Debt and unprecedented levels of government spending.