Sunday, September 25

Are Americans ready to get down to brass tacks?

There could be a silver lining to the storm clouds made by Katrina and Rita: after decades of kicking the can down the road, Americans might be willing to confront two issues that strike hard at both sides of the political aisle: Pork spending in appropriations bills, and whether the country should pay taxes that encourage Americans to reside on the edge of fragile coastlines in hurricane alley. Support for this novel idea comes from two September 23 PBS television offerings:

First, NOW's surprisingly objective (i.e., no bashing of the political Right) report titled Coastal Development and Flood Insurance. Second, the Journal Editorial Report's surprisingly objective (i.e., no bashing of the political Left) discussion of pork spending.

Both shows bluntly ask whether Americans are ready to get serious about confronting the issues under discussion. Here's Pundita's answer: If NOW and the Wall Street Journal editorial board are willing to chuck partisan politics long enough to take an objective look at fundamental issues, this is a sign that the rest of us should try.
NOW's producers recently traveled to Dauphin Island, Alabama, where 60% of the homes on the western edge of the island have been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. But this isn't the first time the island has been hit hard. In the wake of previous flooding, communities like Dauphin Island have used federal dollars and federal insurance programs to rebuild. NOW asks if we have been making a mistake with government policies that encourage rebuilding in areas vulnerable to natural disasters.
The transcript continues with a summary of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and its importance to the US debate about coastal development, then goes on to lay out how the debate is shaping up. The NOW transcript is required reading, if you are new to the debate and believe it's an important one.

The Journal show's transcript also makes for riveting, educational reading. The panel of Journal editorialists reviews pork spending in the recent transportation bill and sounds out the American willingness to deal with pork:
STEVE MOORE: ... in Washington the pork has finally hit the fan and what's happening in this town is you're starting to see Americans all over the country seeing these visions of all of this pork in the [transportation] bill and they find it to be repugnant.

The problem for Republicans is when they took over Congress back in 1994 they pledged to get rid of all this irresponsible wasteful spending and now a lot of voters, especially conservative voters, are looking at what's going on in the Republican Congress when people like Tom DeLay say "We can't find anything to cut." And they're saying wait a minute, now we've got two big government parties in Washington.

PAUL GIGOT: Nancy Pelosi, the democratic house leader, this week volunteered to give up $70 million dollars worth of roads and other projects in her district in San Francisco which struck both good policy, but also very smart politics trying to reclaim the fiscal conservative mantle from the Republicans.

ROB POLLOCK: Absolutely. Look, there's a moral dimension to spending here and that's what we're seeing. Spending is ultimately about taxes, it's about coercion. I was surprised yesterday: Mary Landrieu, senator from Louisiana, she's requesting $250 billion dollars to be spent on her state alone. She says she admits that that's a lot of money. Well, how much money is that? That's $2,500 dollars per household in America.
The question is whether Americans will stay with the questions raised by both PBS shows, or whether we'll allow political agendas to once again send us down the garden path.

It's a vital question because several foreign interests have seen the Katrina disaster as the perfect opportunity to push harder for their own agendas, which range from pressuring the US on the Kyoto treaty to getting the US military presence out of the Middle East.

If Americans can manage to stay on track, this will not only do the United States a world of good; it will also serve as a model for peoples around the world who've never known anything but a raw deal and crocodile tears from their political leaders.

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