He Read Extensively, Crunched Numbers, Then Wrote to His Constituents
The debt ceiling impasse seems to be widening, not narrowing as House Republicans push a 300-page bill chocked full of spending cuts while President Biden remains adamant in his demand for a debt ceiling increase with no strings attached.
Because of lower federal tax receipts this month, the debt cliff has been moved up to early June. Even though there is wide agreement a technical default by the U.S. government would be a disaster, financial markets haven’t started to panic. Most of the hair-on-fire commentary about what would happen comes from columnists and politicians.
The standoff between Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy created a political opening for the Problem-Solver Caucus, which has ridden the rescue before. However, its suggestion to appoint a blue-ribbon commission landed like a thud.
So what we have are both major party leaders commanding their rank-and-file members to keep in line – Democrats for a simple vote to raise the debt ceiling; Republicans for expansive spending cuts and Biden policy rollbacks.
Compromise Lost Its Political Sheen
Once upon a time, American voters elected a split Congress to encourage compromise to keep the government running. Those days seem long gone. McCarthy and the factions in his caucus believe their slim control of the House is a mandate. Biden just announced his bid for a second term to complete the national transformation started in his first term.
In that environment, perhaps the only hope is a political contrarian willing to risk ridicule by proposing a compromise that under the circumstances make sense. Cue Democratic Congressman Jared Golden, serving his third term representing a solidly Republican district in Maine.
The 40-year-old former Marine combat veteran and Bates College graduate spent two months reading everything he could find about the federal budget. With some ideas in mind, Golden sought help from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Tax Foundation to crunch numbers to produce a balanced plan. Then he did the unthinkable. He wrote an eight-page letter to his constituents explaining his plan.
His letter starts by acknowledging the unavoidable need for compromise under split control of Congress. He also expresses the economic view that out-of-control deficits stoke inflation, swallowing ever larger chunks of federal resources.
Golden sizes up the immediate challenge as “to stabilize deficits so the nation’s debt grows no faster than the nation’s income.” Compared to rhetoric surrounding the debt ceiling, federal spending and budget deficits, his straightforward, almost simple conclusion seems clarifying.
The letter goes on to explain his concept that sets a target for reducing federal deficits by $250 billion in each of the next two years. Half, Golden says, would come from spending caps. The other half by increased revenue.
He would place spending caps on discretionary spending (not on Social Security or Medicare), which would track with what House Republicans have demanded. His tax increases are favorites of Democrats – raising the tax rate on big corporations to 25 percent, imposing a surtax on corporate stock buybacks and rescinding the Trump tax cut for individuals making more than $400,000 a year.
There is something appealing about a single congressman doing his homework, coming up with a compromise and sharing it with his constituents.
A Simple Plan That’s Anything But Simple
It would easy to dismiss Golden’s concept as too simple or too obvious to meet the high political moment of the current D.C. showdown over the debt ceiling. But simple and obvious are two descriptions glaringly missing from the non-negotiation of the moment, which threatens a repeat of the financial fiasco of a decade ago, a moment all parties agreed never to repeat.
In actuality, Golden’s concept isn’t as simple as it seems. It would require Democrats and Republicans to back off their locked-and-loaded positions to compromise – Democrats accepting spending cuts, Republicans swallowing hard to approve tax hikes. Backing down would create some political pain for both parties. Biden would start his re-election campaign with his transformation investment strategies in play. McCarthy would likely have to turn to House Democrats to approve a plan that raised taxes, a move that could threaten his already tenuous speakership.
Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post columnist who wrote about Golden’s plan, said, “It fell to a pro-choice, pro-gun Democrat from a Trump district in the backwoods of Maine to venture a reasonable plan to tame runaway budget deficits. Neither party would like it, but I think most Americans could accept it. In other words, an artful compromise.”
That assessment might be the best summary of the kind of politics called for in times like these. Most Americans have never heard of Jared Golden. But they should learn more his style of doing his job – starting with homework, crunching numbers and reporting findings to constituents. There is something elemental and natural about that approach to politics that very well could be what’s needed to meet this national moment and avoid a national embarrassment.