Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” –Groucho Marx
Let’s say Groucho has two of the four correct — that Washington politics (in our lifetimes) indeed has been the art of diagnosing the trouble incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
Certainly, the wrong fiscal remedies have been the course of action for the past 22 years. The last time our Washington lawmakers produced a budget surplus was in Bill Clinton’s final year in 2000.
Ever since the Clinton-Newt Gingrich four years of budget surpluses our subsequent presidents and Congresses have produced an unbroken trendline of ever growing deficits and debt. As the accompanying box shows, Presidents Bush II, Obama, Trump and Biden and the Congresses from 2001 to 2023 just keep spending, spending and spending and borrowing, borrowing and borrowing.
That trend can’t even be considered the well-known definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Our congressional leaders from either party don’t even pretend that Congress actually will spend less money than it did the previous year — and produce different results. They just keep raising the farcical debt limit.
For Pete’s sake. How many more times are the House and Senate members going to take the country to the brink of a government shutdown, only to avert it with an agreement that just keeps the status quo?
C’mon. Americans’ eyes are totally glazed over by this ridiculous drama and charade.
Which brings us to Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Republican from Pensacola. Wherever you turn in the media, Gaetz is pilloried. Conservative commentators such as Mark Levin, Hugh Hewitt and Sean Hannity all have castigated Gaetz repeatedly. You hear Gaetz being called a flamethrowing, narcissistic lunatic and charlatan.
The Wall Street Journal called Gaetz and other House members on his side “Jacobins,” a pejorative reference to political activists during the French revolution in 1791. (Often called radicals, the Jacobins actually advocated for a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy. What’s wrong with that?)
The flamethrowing intensified Sunday, when Gaetz announced he was going to file a motion to have Speaker Kevin McCarthy removed. Later in the day, Fox News reported House Republicans in turn were organizing to expel Gaetz. Fox quoted an unnamed member of Congress Sunday, saying: “No one can stand him at this point. A smart guy without morals.”
Now, none of us outside the D.C. bubble knows what has occurred behind closed doors in the House, in particular what Gaetz or McCarthy have said or done to each other. You read in various places that the rift between Gaetz and McCarthy is personal. Gaetz says otherwise. He contends his quest is rooted in principles.
But from observing the drama from afar, this is what we see through the looking glass: Gaetz and six to 20 other House Republicans who side with Gaetz’s positions are explicitly saying: “Enough is enough! No more of the status quo!”
Not only are they saying it, they are taking action to reverse Congress’ spendthrift, destructive behavior.
Finally, finally, someone up there is trying to change things — and not just bloviate like so many of them with their pious, meaningless words flowing like wastewater through a sewer.
“But … but,” say those who despise Gaetz. “There is a more adult and mature and respectable way to go about it.”
True. Rarely, if ever, do you succeed or gain respect if you’re constantly a grenade-throwing agitator. People write you off. The common refrain: You need to work within the system and patiently, tactfully go about building coalitions like a mature adult and statesman.
Has that worked over the past two decades?
What’s more, what Gaetz and his colleagues are fighting for are two things that we are guessing the vast majority of Americans want Congress to do:
1) Quit spending and borrowing money at unsustainable rates. Actually reduce spending.
2) Operate the way Congress is supposed to operate.
The Republican-controlled House had from January until this past weekend to do both. It did neither.
To understand what happened and what spurred Gaetz to go all out, here is how Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, who often sides with Gaetz, explained what happened in a Sept. 28 letter to constituents:
“House Republican leaders promised that we would restore the regular process of producing a budget. That means that 12 separate bills covering the spending of the Great Leviathan, federal government, would be completed in the House by the end of June, and then forwarded to the Senate for consideration.
“Typically, there would be disagreements and then a conference committee of members from the House and Senate would get together and work out the differences.
“Speaker McCarthy boxed in himself and the Republican House by foregoing the promise of limiting spending to $1.471 trillion and allowing those addicted to the federal spending drug to ignore, manipulate and gimmick the various bills to actually spend above that level.
“A significant plurality in the House has made its position known for almost 10 months now. This could have and should have been resolved months ago. I called for a return to pre-COVID spending levels, which are lower than last year’s revenue, and would ensure we don’t add more to the national debt.
“We were told that we would work through August to resolve differences and get the bills ready to go forward. That didn’t happen.
“Before the August recess, the Speaker allowed the Military Construction and Veterans Administration bill to be voted on. We all voted for that because we want to take care of our veterans, and we were told that by the time the recess was over the other bills would be ready.
“That, too, didn’t happen.
“As it stands today (Sept. 28), my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee haven’t finished writing all 12 bills.”
Biggs went on to explain his version of what House members were about to face last Friday, when, as it turned out, Gaetz and others stopped another McCarthy proposal:
“Now, however, the Speaker is advocating for passage of just a few more bills plus a continuing resolution. And of the four bills that he wants to bring to the floor, three actually increase spending over the current year …
“Now we are told that there is a new plan, that looks a lot like the old plan. Pass a few bills now and pass a CR. The claim is that the new CR cuts spending and requires the Biden Regime to enforce border laws.
“But instead of limiting the spending to the promised topline of $1.471 trillion, spending will be $1.526 trillion.”
That is Biggs’ version. But it gives us context as to why outspoken Gaetz has gone as far as he has to challenge McCarthy and his handling of the budget process.
Mind you, McCarthy is in a no-win situation, trying to herd 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats. Neither he nor anyone else likely could ever persuade every Republican (nor all Democrats) to side with him on how to manage and cut the federal budget.
And castigate Gaetz if you will for being what his detractors are calling a petulant child and for not showing an inch of compromising statesmanship.
But from an ordinary taxpayer’s perspective, that of taxpayers who are exasperated with Congress’ ineptitude, give Gaetz and his few so-called renegade Republican colleagues credit. For once in our lifetimes, there are a few leaders in Congress who — in spite of their disdained approach — have the courage to stand up to the status quo Establishment.
While Gaetz’s tactics would not be accepted in small businesses, corporations and other publicly visible organizations, let’s hope his disruptive ways will move the feckless, sheep-like, cowardly members of Congress to begin the process of ending the reckless spending that is deflating and destroying Americans’ standard of living.
People don’t change until they have enough pain. Perhaps Gaetz has provided the necessary pain.