John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Profiles in Courage

Posted on November 7, 2011


In 1955, Jack Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for his book (co-written by his long-time speech writer Ted Sorenson) “Profiles in Courage.”

Kennedy’s book spotlighted 8 U.S. Senators who fought conventional wisdom and party orthodoxy and suffered politically in the short term because of their efforts.

Included in his book were profiles of big names like John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Sam Houston, and Robert Taft.  Also included were characters largely forgotten by history, people like Thomas Hart Benton, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, and George Norris.

Add Mike Simpson of Idaho to the list of latter day profiles in courage, a list that includes Mike Crapo, Saxby Chambliss and Tom Coburn.

Simpson courageously said over the weekend that including additional revenues must be an important part of a budget agreement.  He is taking a leadership role in trying to round up support for an honorable compromise that includes both entitlement reform and tax reforms that will make a real dent in our budget problems.

Simpson is pushing the Super Committee to go large in their plans and stop with the small ball.  This is not a politically popular thing to do if you are a Republican.

Simpson joins the Republican half of the Gang of Six, which of course includes Crapo, Chambliss and Coburn, in speaking truth to the power of an orthodoxy that is veering towards absurdity.

Revenues stand at 14% of GDP, a historic low in the modern era.  We need more revenue if we want to pay our troops, pay off our Social Security obligations, have any kind of social safety net, and maintain our world leadership in commerce and security.

When Arthur Laffer first sketched out the philosophy of supply side economics, he believed that fundamental tax reform would lead to an explosion of new revenues.  And guess what?  They were right.

So, why is it now the position of some Republicans that we don’t need any new revenues?  A country that is collecting fewer taxes than ever before but has the biggest deficit in history needs new revenues.    It shouldn’t require a profile in courage to point this fact out, but alas, those are the times we live in.

As Simpson also rightly pointed out over the weekend, you can get new revenues without increasing tax rates.  You can simplify the tax code, get rid of loopholes, deal with our ridiculous overseas tax regime that helps to move jobs and money to foreign countries, and in doing so, create economic expansion and jobs, and also get more people to actually pay their taxes.

Of course, revenues shouldn’t be the only part of this deal.

The most important part comes on the spending side.  And the most important part of the spending side comes with entitlement spending, which if left uncontrolled, will soon make America a third-world country.

If you have to spend close to 75% of your budget on retirement programs, which will be the case if we don’t deal with it in the next twenty years, that means you have will no money to spend on defense, highways, water infrastructure, security, or anything else in the discretionary budget.

We already, right now, have to borrow money from the Chinese to pay for the discretionary budget.  If you believe that this is sustainable in the long-term, I want a toke of whatever you are smoking.

And that is what makes it so frustrating for some of these members of Congress, who want to get a deal that includes entitlement reforms, but are limited by what they can negotiate.

The Super Committee will never get serious on entitlement reform unless it gets  an agreement on revenues.

Simpson, as well as the Senate Gang of Six, are getting hammered by some activists because of their willingness to negotiate on revenue.  These members, all true conservatives in every way, shape and form, believe that this moment is too important, this opportunity is too rare, and this budget crisis that faces America too serious, to not move forward.