Political games and gains

The pending doomsday with locusts descending upon us as a result of the “Sequester” has become the talk of the land lately. I am predicting that it will be viewed by history as the Albatross that was hung over the Capitol by those elected officials who designed it, voted for it and are now calling it names like “stupid.”

The rest of us have suffered through this dysfunctional government in Washington one crisis after another. We have faced our fears of a government shutdown, going over the fiscal cliff and returning to the days of the early 1930s -yet we still seem to hold on. Senator Tom Coburn referred to Washington as being “dysfunctional at being dysfunctional.”

Many have been saying that this president hasn’t done enough to reach out to the opposition, but after more than four years in the White House one has to ask if having dinner and lunch with his political adversaries was truly reaching across the aisle to get something done, or just another political game in order to gain favor with the public? Whatever it was, something needs to get done, and it doesn’t matter to me if it happens over dinner or during a back yard horseshoe game; the nation’s continuing resolution (temporary budget) and the expiration of the debt ceiling suspension are looming (and we are still waiting for those locusts).

According to the reports, March 1 was the day when nearly $85 million in automatic spending cuts were to go into effect. Ben Bernanke tried to convince Congress that “monetary policy cannot carry the entire burden of ensuring a speedier return to economic health.” And, “not all tax and spending programs are created equal with respect to their effects on the economy.” Something tells me that our representatives and senators were not listening. Now is when we must continue to invest in education, research and infrastructure; how sad that these areas are expected to fall victim to the cuts in discretionary spending outlined in the Sequester.

We need to find a balance. There must be a way to increase revenue while making intelligent spending cuts. We have to look at defense, discretionary spending, health care, and entitlements, but we need to look at them in a balanced and fair-minded way; that means no political games! The current cuts being made arbitrarily in Washington, are not just affecting the politicians – they are affecting what we do right in our own communities. Let’s look at entitlements.

According to the politicians, Social Security, Medicare, Welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid are “Entitlements.” I beg to differ! An entitlement is something that one has worked for, paid into and given something in which a reasonable return can be expected according to the rules that were established at the time the contributions were made. Medicaid, welfare and food stamps do not fall into this category.

It is obvious that continuing the Social Security and Medicare programs as they exist today need to be reformed. However, there are reasonable ways to do this; raising the age eligibility requirements and going to a system that allows for “means testing” in which the social security recipient’s benefit could be lowered based on their total income could make a significant difference. Medicaid and welfare will take a lot more work, and a willingness to make some very unpopular and un-political decisions.

The cost of Medicaid alone is approximately $15,000 per recipient nationwide, in New York state that number is in excess of $25,000. According to an article in the Washington Post in May, Medicaid’s per person costs grew 2.5 percent between 2007 and 2010, and continues to increase. An October report showed that with the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare), additional costs for Medicaid would be shifted back to the States as per the Medicaid Per Capita Cap (keep in mind that New York taxpayers are faced with some of the highest costs already.) We are not even talking about welfare yet!

The across-the-board cuts that were made as a result of the Sequester have been labeled as stupid by both parties as well as the white House. So why do them? Why not look at the areas where smart cuts can be made? Why not take a look at the excess and waste in spending time and money filibustering, arguing, flying around on jets with taxpayer money, playing golf with Tiger Woods or leaving the Capitol the day the sequester took place – yes, one group is as guilty as the other of wasting time and money while trying to make the other guy look bad – political games for political gains.

This Sequester will affect each of us. Many things will change and not all of them for the good. The White House has closed its doors to the public, the education assistance program for our military men and women has been cut, and there is more to come. According to the Office of Management and Budget, defense has been hit hard. Don’t we need our military for our protection? The contractors and government employees will be affected, but the Senate and House member compensation has been exempted. Let me remind you that the House, Senate and White House agreed to this Sequester back in 2011. Yet, today they call it “Stupid.” I guess it is time to quote Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Have a great day.

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident and author. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com