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Programmed, Tactical Failure

As a creature of habit, you will generally find me on Sunday mornings watching NBC’s Meet the Press with host David Gregory. For several months, it has for me devolved into a flagellation of sorts, with me hoping for some rational discussion and any indication there is someone willing to raise enough hell to move things off dead center. Listening to Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Kyl (R-AZ) this past Sunday I felt like throwing a shoe at the television.

To compound matters, even with respectful commentary from Mike Murphy, Dee Dee Myers, Eugene Robinson and Ed Gillespie, there was no one blasting the total ineptitude or morale failings of the ‘Debt Reduction Super Committee.’ Rather, within a context of charming jousts and disarming ideology, these ‘roundtable’ pundits shared their perspective without focusing on a very clear truth. Driven by a total disregard for what is best for the country, this committee continues to neglect the very good work of last year’s Simpson-Bowles and Rivlin-Domenici commissions, which made almost identical, very difficult but very well researched and prudent recommendations. From both, we heard admonitions to abandon the Bush tax cuts, reduce discretionary government spending, and begin reeling in entitlements. Both suggested economic programs that would begin the process of revitalizing the workplace and laying the foundation for job creation. Having read both committee reports, I can recommend them as thoughtful, no-nonsense, tough reviews of what must be done and why.

As noted in this commentary some weeks ago, decisions are being made without regard for America’s near- and long-term future. Recommendations are driven by power and greed, both of which provide the foundation for modern American politics. The era of representing the highest and best common interests of citizens is over. Sadly, it may never again flourish as it did in the mid-1900s.

Business and banks are sitting on enormous cash hoards. At a time when investment is crucial for growth, there is reluctance to open the coffers. Why? Simply because confidence in long-term solutions is lacking, gridlock has demonstrated an almost total absence of congressional leadership, and the global economy is being torpedoed by historic disregard for prudent spending, and even more prudent living. Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and other European Union countries have run aground on shoals of indifference and profligacy. A 60-year history of letting others pay their way has bred generations of narrow thinkers, vacationers, and apologists. Theirs is a platform of reparations and disregard for a global future. It is myopic and toxic, but more critically, it is dangerous.

The Debt Reduction Committee has failed. Even with a clear and somewhat simple task that involved embracing former Republican positions to which Democrats now adhere, committee members reversed field and refused to compromise. Behind the scenes, the Beltway word is that dissention is contrived by strategists who are counting on twelve more months of unrest to unseat the president. Not by any measure a strategy born from a commitment to the common wellbeing of citizens, but rather, it is a tactic driven by calculated degradation of this country for political gain.

The U.S. doesn’t have another year to dally. Europe is in a lifeboat reaching for the oars. Both China and India will see contracting economies beginning in 2012 and other stronger economies (Brazil, Germany, Canada, and Argentina) cannot carry the load. Newsweek’s Niall Ferguson has just commented that, to grow, the U.S. economy must enjoy robust exports at a time when Europe is contracting into an economic death spiral. We can’t count on either sales or loans much longer.  That game is almost over.

So, here’s the deal.  The U.S. can grow, albeit slowly, if it can weather the current storm, which will last for another three to five years.  Count on it. In this space, I have noted that the recession or its first cousin will linger for much of this decade. The U.S. gross federal debt is approximately 100 percent of GDP. Just four years ago, it was 62 percent. It is growing, with little sign of slowing, unless decisions are made NOW. Based on the abject failure of Congress and this ridiculous Debt Reduction Super Committee, I suggest we continue working at the local level to build, grow, encourage and collaborate. Local economies can surge during slow economic times. Yes, it will be slow, but forward movement is possible and can be accomplished with careful planning and thoughtful resource allocation. We can do this, but it is time to stop expecting much help from Washington.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal government long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). His 2010 book, Planning the Future – A Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning for Elected Officials, Public Administrators and Community Leaders, is being hailed as the best book for public managers and community leaders who are committed to building a sustainable future.  An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

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