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John Zaring: Regardless of party, we’re in the same boat

Democratic Voices

Posted: February 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.

I’m a Democrat, so what the Democratic Party stands for, and fights for, is quite important to me.

That being said, I’m first and foremost an American, and will always put the good of the country ahead of my personal political beliefs. 

When the president submitted a $1.1 trillion deficit-reducing budget to Congress on Monday that included a five-year spending freeze on programs, many that Democrats hold dear, I was prepared to give our president the benefit of the doubt. 

Not surprisingly, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wasn’t as willing to play nice. 

On Sunday, the day before the president’s budget was even released, Boehner was on NBC’s “Meet the Press” making the apocalyptic prediction that this budget “will continue to destroy jobs by spending too much, borrowing too much and taxing too much.’’  

Really? Will it cause an earthquake in California, too?

In reality, the president’s spending plan incorporates many ideas developed by the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, including limiting awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, overhauling the corporate tax system and freezing pay for federal workers.

A five-year freeze on non-national security discretionary spending will impact dozens of programs and save $400 billion.

Still, it did not include some of the other key things the commission suggested, such as raising the minimum age to start Social Security benefits, charging wealthy seniors more for their services or limiting popular tax breaks, such as the mortgage interest deduction. 

Those issues, at least for now, appear to put the president’s hopes of achieving bipartisan support in jeopardy. 

The truth is, this budget is going to be painful for nearly everyone — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — which means people will need to accept cuts to programs we typically don’t want touched.

For Democrats, that includes eliminating $100 billion from Pell grants and other higher-education programs through 2021.

Republicans will dislike the president’s plan to cut $78 billion in the Pentagon’s spending over the next decade through reductions in various weapons programs deemed unnecessary by the Pentagon’s leadership, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  

There’s no such thing as a compromise that a partisan can like, which is why political courage and cooperation will be needed from both sides of the aisle in order to reach agreement on a plan forward. Of course, political courage and cooperation are in short supply in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, in California, Republicans in the Legislature have forced Gov. Jerry Brown to barnstorm around the state in a Hail Mary attempt to put his plan to extend the car, sales and income tax rates voters approved in 2009 but will expire in June, up to a vote of the people of California.

Failing that, the governor has warned that the state will face extraordinarily draconian cuts in education and programs that assist the poor. 

Do Republicans really want to savage children and the poor? I think not, at least not all of them.

Like many Democrats I know, some Republicans simply want the government to find a way to live within its means, and the truth is, Census Bureau tables show that total spending, per capita, by local and state governments was 19 percent higher in California than in the rest of the country in 1992 and 25 percent higher in 2008.

The important takeaway from those statistics is that California, whether it’s led by Democrats or Republicans, has been pretty darn good at spending our money. 

Still, in the midst of a bona fide crisis, it is my observation that everyday Californians want to vote on this, and thus Republicans would be wise to drop their nihilistic opposition to the governor’s tax referendum.

Last November, when a “Red Tide” was stopped cold at the border, Californians demonstrated they’re not buying into the “party of no.” 

Brown is saying the right things, acknowledging that wanton spending must be reined in. That’s a big step in the right direction.

His predecessors, going back to Republican Pete Wilson, were really good at playing “kick the can.” And not unlike the president and Congress, our governor and Legislature must now work together to resolve looming insolvency.

It won’t be easy, but an old adage applies best here: “Nothing worth having ever is easy.”

So what can you do about it?

Speak up, and tell your representatives to play nice, just like in the sandbox in elementary school.

Tell them you want them to put our state and country first, because if they continue to play the Russian roulette of partisan politics instead, the recovery will, at best, be delayed — but more likely, made worse. 

America can’t afford worse, and neither can California.

Our destiny is one and the same.

John Zaring has been a Castaic resident since 2000. In August, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party awarded Zaring the Democrat of the Year award. He serves on the Castaic Union School District’s Strategic Planning Committee, the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Commission’s arts education committee and the Hart District’s Financing Corp. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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