Senator's candor out of style
Sunday, May 14, 2006
David S. Broder / Syndicated columnist
WASHINGTON — The hardest question any Washington reporter
faces these days, whenever talking with voters outside the capital, is
simply: Can I believe anything I'm told by those politicians in
Washington — or by the press?
The cynicism in the public is thick enough to cut.
That is what makes it newsworthy when a public official,
speaking on the record, sets forth a view that is as blunt and
uncomfortable as it is politically unpalatable.
Without further ado, let me then quote extensively from a speech
delivered May 3 on the floor of the Senate by George Voinovich, a
Republican from Ohio — a speech which, by the way, drew almost no
comment from his colleagues or from the apparently benumbed press corps.
Voinovich began by pointing out that when he came to the Senate
in 1999, "the national debt stood at $5.6 trillion. Today ... the
national debt stands at $8.4 trillion ... an increase in the national
debt of about 50 percent."
Bad as that is, he said, worse is to come. "The retirement of
the baby-boom generation will put unprecedented strains on the federal
government. ... According to the reports from Medicare and Social
Security trustees, the trust funds for these programs will be exhausted
even earlier than previously thought. ... If we leave reform of
entitlement programs for future Congresses to solve, as well as a
mountain of debt to pay off, it will have devastating consequences on
the economy and on our children and grandchildren."
Voinovich, as mayor of Cleveland and as governor of Ohio, faced
deficits and dealt with them by trimming spending and raising revenues.
It was from that experience that he cautioned colleagues who think
there is an easier way.
"Some members believe that the solution is to grow the economy
out of the problem, that by cutting taxes permanently, the economy will
eventually raise enough revenue to offset any current losses to the
U.S. Treasury. I respectfully disagree with that assertion. ... In
November 2005, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan testified
before the Joint Economic Committee and told Congress: 'We should not
be cutting taxes by borrowing.' ... Instead of making the tax cuts
permanent, we should be leveling with the American people about the
fiscally shaky ground we are on."
Voinovich said that while the government is not coming close to
paying its current bills, it is also not meeting its obligations to the
future. Investment in transportation and infrastructure and in training
the next generation of workers is far below the levels needed to
maintain America's competitive position in the world economy.
Voinovich finished with these words: "I have to say this, and I
know it is controversial, but if you look at the extraordinary costs
that we had with the war and homeland security and Katrina, the logical
thing that one would think about is to ask for a temporary tax increase
to pay for them. Did you hear that? Ask for a temporary tax to pay for
it, instead of saying we will let our kids take care of it; we will let
our grandchildren take care of it.
"No, we are not doing it. The people who are sacrificing today
in this country are the ones who have lost men and women in our wars.
The people who have sacrificed today are the ones who have come back
without their arms and legs — thousands of them. ...
"The question I ask is, what sacrifice are we making? Anyone in
the know who is watching us has to wonder about our character, our
intellectual honesty, our concern about our national security, our
nation's competitiveness in the global marketplace now and in the
future and, last but not least, our don't-give-a-darn attitude about
the standard of living and quality of life of our children and
"The question is, are we willing to be honest with ourselves and the American people and make these tough decisions?"
The answer from Congress was to pass a two-year extension of the
Bush tax cuts for capital gains and dividends — a $70 billion
package that mainly benefits those with annual incomes over $200,000.
Voinovich was one of the few Republicans who joined Democrats in
opposing the budget-buster. His candor is, unfortunately, not
David S. Broder's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com
2006, Washington Post Writers Group