Bob Franken

Last Week’s King Features Column

(Writer’s note: The arrangements with the syndicators allow for my columns to appear here a week after their newspaper release.)


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What a shame that our leaders can’t call in one of those debt-relief companies that bombard us with promises that they can help us crawl out of our deep financial hole. Some of them are even honest. With a crushing arrears that right now stands at an incomprehensible $14 trillion, with $1.65 trillion more in deficits expected on the pile this year, the nation could certainly use somebody’s expertise at setting up budgets that eliminate the frivolous while maintaining the basic necessities.

It sounds simple, but it gets goofy when politicians are involved. They answer to constituents who have vastly different opinions on what is frivolous and what is necessary. You’ve heard of NIMBY, as in “not in my backyard,” the cry we hear when it’s time to place some garbage dump or human dump somewhere? Now, as we attempt to spread the cutback pain, we’re getting squeals of NIMBA, meaning “not in my budget allocation.”

It works for some, particularly those who have bottomless resources for lobbyists and campaign contributions. So oil subsidies remain for the energy companies that won’t be satisfied with profits that are only obscene. In fact, we get to continue promoting the culture of petroleum excess. The Army gets to continue spending $7 million or so a year advertising itself on NASCAR racers.

But the right wing rolled over one social program after another, and worked hard to settle some old grudges. If these lacerations remain, we will kiss the Corporation for Public Broadcasting goodbye, as well as Planned Parenthood grants and, of course, the money to implement the GOP-hated health-care reform, as well as any meaningful business regulation.

The grim reapers would mow down all but their favorites, with little regard for the unfortunate who would be left behind in a barren landscape. “After all,” quipped a sarcastic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, “you can lose a lot of weight by cutting off your arms and legs”

There’s nary a word about stitching on some new taxes, particularly on the conservatives’ wealthy sugar daddies and mommas. As for capping the biggest money gushers, there is silence about entitlements. All our leaders on both sides are apparently too timid to actually lead through the minefields of Social Security and Medicare

So they zealously slice the 13 percent sliver of the budget devoted to other domestic spending. In the process, they all but ignore the jobs they endanger if there’s an extended government shutdown. Some estimate that it could add 800,000 from the public sector and ancillary private ranks to the huge unemployment heap. House Speaker John Boehner dismissed those concerns with a disdainful “So be it.”

It is true that the tea party only controls the House of Representatives, so the Senate and the president with his veto pen stand between these draconian cuts and reality. Don’t forget, though, that those House Republicans can block any compromise that would continue funding the government. Now Boehner says a deal is not a given, despite evidence that the last time there was a shutdown, blame splattered mainly on the GOP.

It’s entirely possible that he and his stalwarts are just playing the tough-guy role to squeeze out as many concessions as they can. Call it a game of chicken, or call it chicken-something, but it’s dangerous, since a mob psychology can take over, and those who are in control can lose control.

The Obama administration estimates that in just 10 years, the interest payments alone could quadruple if we go on like this, and that each of us might be paying $2,500 basically for nothing. So this is fast becoming NIMI, as in “now it’s mostly idiotic,” because before long, no debt-relief program in the world will be able to prevent the United States of America from going bankrupt.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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