CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Jan. 13, The Washington Post carried an unusual op-ed co-written by the least popular Republican presidential candidate and the junior Senator from West Virginia. The two men proposed that a "no [party affiliation] label" group of problem solving congresspeople work together in a pragmatic fashion to overcome gridlock.
This much-to-be-desired idea faces huge challenges and a potentially derailing minefield. Here are some examples of possible outcomes and a few of the "mines" that might explode under these brave "no label" pragmatists.
Obviously the first challenge is to attack the deficit in a way that will not do too much damage to the fragile and halting economic recovery. One elegant solution would be to fine tune the Social Security index for inflation to slightly lower the amount of yearly payout with a quid pro quo of doing away with the individual income cap that protects much of the income of wealthier earners.
A more eclectic approach might be suggested by a visit to a free government grant website that lists 45 categories of grants, such as business start-up, church, college, disability, home, minority business, personal, real estate, women's education and low income housing. Although these non-government websites tend to overstate funds available to individuals, nonprofits do get grants in these categories, and the government itself has programs to address these needs. Do away with most of these (keep perhaps the business start-up) and tighten up on the remainder. A quid pro quo here might be to impose a securities trading tax that would both increase governmental income and help protect the economy from deranged financiers.
Now then, what about the metaphorical mines that might derail the effort? First, the pragmatists might back down. Liberals have been taught that there really is no deficit problem (and their confusion might be understandable given a well known three word quotation for our Vice President emeritus); conservatives have been told that taxes are theft and in any case the recent "cliff" showdown was THE LAST time taxes would ever be considered. And it is true, alas, that Sen. Manchin seems to have backed down a bit from his admirably balanced approach to gun control.
Another "mine" is the replacement of Republican congresspersons with wing-nuts in suits. Their "take no prisoners" approach to doing their work is intransigence -- now and forever! If they can muster a bare majority of the House to derail this effort, they might do it.
Finally it may happen that a catastrophe having nothing to do with the topic under discussion will blow potential cooperation out of the water. An editorial in the Gazette of Jan. 15 opines that "...Tehran will either agree to limit its nuclear program or Israel and the United States will move towards military action [aka "war"]". Participation in a new, unexpected war on Iran would certainly reignite the congressional war that the pragmatists are trying to quench. It might even begin a movement to impeach the President or the Secretary of Defense.
Thus it is that our hardy band of problem solvers would seem to have as much chance of success as a band of dwarves (and one hobbit) have of recovering lost gold. But the payoff in both cases is very worthwhile. It may be that Sen. Manchin is no more an average Joe than Bilbo Baggins was an average hobbit! Let's hope.
Palmer is retired and is a substitute teacher.