- Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 August 2011 15:34
- Published on Wednesday, 10 August 2011 15:34
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Ten years ago I was running for reelection to the Stafford County School Board and like most candidates for local office I was out going door to door. At the time the school board was having a serious disagreement with the board of supervisors on funding for the schools.
The school board wanted ten million dollars more than the board of supervisors was willing to give us. This kind of disagreement is not uncommon in local government. However, our debate had long since ceased being an exchange of opinion. Rather it had become a battle of dueling letters to the editor, acrimonious comments at meetings of both boards, and little, if any common ground. Of course, being on the
school board, I thought our view was the right one and that the supervisors were just anti-education.
In the course of my door knocking I visited one of my favorite neighbors, a former chemist, who at that time was 93 years old. However, in spite of being up in years he always took a great interest in school matters and had talked to me on many occasions about his concerns regarding instruction in math and science. I always considered him a supporter. That’s, why, when I visited I was taken aback by his comments. He wasn’t happy with our budget impasse. He told me, in a polite, almost fatherly manner, that my job was to work these things out and not to score debating points against those who disagreed with me. He then said, while he liked me, unless we sorted things out, he wasn’t inclined to support either me or the incumbent supervisor. Because, simply put, we weren’t doing our jobs.
I didn’t knock on any more doors that day. His comments hit me pretty hard and I had some thinking to do. Fortunately, a number of other board members had heard the same message. It took about a week, but rather than talking at each other, or engaging in cheap theatrics, we talked real numbers, and no, we didn’t get the amount we wanted, but we got a budget and we moved on.
I realize that the Stafford County School Budget ten years ago compared to the Federal budget, in 2011 is microscopic. In some departmental budgets it wouldn’t even show up as a footnote. But everything we did parallels, in miniature, what happens in Washington. The only difference is the complexity and the scale. We had our disagreements and we had our different perspectives about the future of education in the county. However, when we let the budget debate degrade into a shouting match, we were as my now, late friend said, “not doing our jobs.”
This analogy is probably a little simplistic. But what exactly is the difference between our local government ten years ago and the Congress in 2011? The answer: not much. However, unlike my school board and board of supervisors colleagues so long ago, this Congress has failed miserably in doing its job.
Congress has never been a popular institution. It’s where everyone focuses their frustration. But, amazingly, for all the time consuming debate and procedure involved, the complicated, but nonetheless ingenious system designed by our founding fathers has worked. Over its long history it’s passed some great legislation. And, it always, up until its rather disgraceful performance earlier this year, has managed to pass the most fundamental piece of legislation on its agenda, the annual budget. Yes, 2011 was the first year we failed to pass an annual budget. They just couldn’t agree.
That was embarrassing enough, but the debate on the deficit cap has been a disgrace. No side left this mess looking good. The so-called compromise didn’t begin to address the real problems of long-term spending, namely, Social Security and Medicare, and any hope that there might be some rational increase in revenue, i.e. taxes, never saw the light of day.
The problem, was simple. Neither side, not the Democrats, in their unwillingness to touch the most sacred of their social spending, nor the Republicans, in being unable to talk about any increase in taxes, or even paring back on tax loopholes, could find a middle ground. And alas, President Obama got left in the middle. It was a pathetic performance.
Perhaps, as simplistic as it sounds, they should consider the pointed advice of my aged friend so many years ago. He said our job, in essence, was to govern, and we weren’t doing that. The loss of his support – of that rational, thoughtful old man – was too much for me to ignore. Congress is in a surprisingly similar situation and I would submit that the advice they should consider is almost identical. It’s time to start finding middle ground, give in on a few points, suck it up, make some tough decisions, stop worrying about reelection, and do your jobs.