PERKINS: ‘Fiscal cliff’ compromise deal betrays lack of courage

Kicking the can is not leadership

My neighbor’s 10-year-old station wagon has a terrible noise coming from the engine compartment that has been getting louder over time. Something is obviously very wrong. His solution? He can’t afford to have it repaired, so he simply keeps turning up the radio until he can’t hear it anymore.

What our elected officials in Congress have once again given us in this latest budget deal is Washington’s equivalent of turning up the volume to mask the sound coming from America’s failing engine.

The “fiscal cliff” agreement coming out of Congress has little correlation to the very real and very serious fiscal problems we currently face as a nation. To quote a phrase that has been used often to describe the many past Congresses, they have once again “kicked the can down the road.” Real reform to a bloated and job-stifling tax code has been put off indefinitely. Cuts to discretionary spending were pretty much taken off the table. Most significantly, the “elephant in the room,” our unsustainable entitlement programs, will continue to drive up the deficit and lead us down the path toward fiscal insolvency.

Politicians in Washington would have us believe that they had but two choices: the fiscal cliff or the status quo. Rep. Gerry Connolly, Virginia Democrat, called it a “hold-your-nose vote,” but nevertheless voted in favor of the deal that does almost nothing to address our problems. Many of his colleagues from both sides of the aisle did the same. We’ve seen this time and again — our elected representatives failing to take on the critical issues because the responsible action might be politically inconvenient.

Despite the nature of the electoral process, true leadership is not about winning a popularity contest. It’s about having the courage to make hard decisions because you understand that doing so is ultimately in the best interests of those you’ve sworn to serve and protect. It’s time for our representatives to stop holding their noses and cease putting politics ahead of the nation’s welfare. They need to acknowledge that any real solution is going to be painful for the majority of Americans, regardless of which political party or economic class they fall into. It will be far less painful, however, than it will be if we allow our elected officials to continue to kick the can down the road.

Let’s face it. We all know, consciously or at least intuitively, that continuous deficit spending is our society’s root problem and is creating an unsustainable level of debt that will ultimately result in the nation’s demise. It works the same way whether you are running a household or running a government.

Getting America back on track will require Congress to tackle the issues that were absent in this latest deal: genuine tax reform that simultaneously reduces both rates and expenditures (credits and deductions for special interests), significant cuts to nonsecurity-related discretionary spending, and major reforms to the current entitlement system, which accounts for almost half of all government spending. No one is suggesting it will be easy. Such an approach to governance will require hard work, political compromise and a sincere commitment to actually making difficult decisions that will very likely prove to be politically “inconvenient.”

Taking liberty with an old adage, I say to our elected officials: “If you can’t stand the smell, get out of the kitchen.” It’s time for them to start doing what is expected by those they represent.

Chris Perkins is a retired military officer and was a congressional candidate in 2012.

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