Economy Should Be Top Priority, But Federal Budget Chatter Distracts

Opinion

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I saw an invitation today for a lecture sponsored by a D.C. beltway think tank on the flaws of President Barack Obama's 2013 budget.  My first thought: Will there be an open bar?  My second: Or an espresso bar to keep everyone awake?

Maybe it's because I now reside two hours north of D.C., or maybe it's just my weary cynicism, but I don't understand how certain conservatives and their Republican friends can expect the rest of us to get lathered over Obama's budget or the fact that the Senate hasn't passed a budget in eons.

Just last month, I stopped by a gathering of (mostly) building contractors where a Republican candidate was getting the crowd fired up about taxes and regulations.  Then he said, And you know, the Senate hasn't passed a budget in three years!  Response:  silence.

Maybe the blank stares surprised the candidate, but they didn't surprise me. 

The business owners in the audience couldn't make the connection between a Senate budget (or lack thereof) and their ability to survive in this economy -- and they shouldn't have to.  These are people whose thinking goes right to the bottom line.  As in, if Regulation X gets on the books, my compliance costs will raise by this much, and my profits and/or payroll shrink by that much.

When it comes to more esoteric things like the federal budget process, however, there are way too many dots to connect before you can get to how it impacts a business.  That's why you need an open bar and/or espresso machine to make the dot connecting go easier.

But seriously, big-brain budget chatter distracts us from what should be our top priority:  Getting the economy back on track.  Long-term, things aren't looking good.  Earlier this week, Warren Buffett said a (measly) one percent growth rate per year for the next 20 years would be very impressive. Are you impressed?  I'm not.

Meanwhile, House Republicans -- the folks who should really care about such things -- are spending their precious legislative time passing bills to allow imports of dead polar bears killed during sports hunts in Canada. Last year, they passed a bill (H.Con.Res. 13) that reaffirms the nation's motto as In God We Trust.  Why did they do it?  To set the president straight on what the official motto (set by a 1956 law) is.  One of the bill's sponsors actually stated it offered optimism to the unemployed. And they wonder why their approval ratings are so low.

I have a simple (dare I say Reaganesque?) two-step proposal for our solons in Washington.  First, find out what businesses -- small and large -- really need to get Americans back to work.  Note: this involves determining what's truly required, not what Congress thinks it might be.  Second, focus on the solutions and nothing else.  Every day, everyone, from the suits in the posh Capitol leadership suites to the interns answering the phones in the bowels of the Rayburn building, must know that if it's not about jobs, it's not on the agenda.

Why?  Because it's time to either focus like a laser beam on jobs or get ready for an impressive future of one percent growth.

Joanne Butler is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a former professional Republican staff member at the U.S. House of Ways and Means Committee.

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