Yesterday’s post listed reasons why the President’s budget for 2012 triggered insomnia everywhere inside the Beltway. Some lost sleep because their signature programs didn’t make the cut. Those folks’ll be struggling to restore their favorites over the coming weeks and months. In fact, they’ve been fighting tooth and claw for some time now, going back to last fall. Some lost sleep because it looks as if neither the Congress nor the administration seems poised for meaningful budget reform. A range of commissions and special groups have called for an urgent reworking of social security and other entitlements, as well as revisiting the income side of the fiscal picture, through some combinations of a value-added tax, reducing deductions, raising social security limits, inheritance taxes, and taxes on the wealthiest Americans. [Many pundits will tell you that any consequential steps have been postponed for one, and more likely two, budget cycles since 2012 is an election year.] Others are concerned that the fiscal picture, dreary though it appears, fails to take into account the true costs of nonrenewable resource extraction, environmental losses, and fossil-fuel use. A fully-loaded closet of anxieties! Something to fret everyone.
But some people see another, brighter side to the picture. Included in this group are the apparent winners of the budget debate, those who see increases for their special interests. For most of these, however, any elation is momentary, quickly tempered by the awareness that these favored line items will be targets over the coming months. Those seeking restoration of competing programs will look here for the funding to restore their priorities.
Is there a more robust reason for optimism? Sure there is. Consider the general intent behind the particular choices – as embodied in this language excerpted verbatim from the accompanying President’s budget message.
“… We do this by investing in and reforming education and job training so that all Americans have the skills necessary to compete in the global economy. We do this by encouraging American innovation and investing in research and development—especially in the job-creating industries of tomorrow such as clean energy. We do this by rebuilding America’s infrastructure so that U.S. companies can ship their products and ideas from every corner in America to anywhere in the world. And finally, we do this by coming together as Americans, not Democrats or Republicans, to make the tough choices that get America’s fiscal house in order, investing in what works, cutting what doesn’t, and changing the way business is done in Washington.”
Education? Innovation? Rebuilding infrastructure? Coming together?
What’s not to like?
Who can be against these goals and purposes? Sure, as a political partisan you can read what you want to in this: nobility, or duplicity, but to get to the latter takes a bit of a stretch. Okay, so now you can, if you insist on doing battle, move the conflict to the implementation. Or you can argue that this brief passage has been taken out of context…that to see that the administration’s approach is problematic requires looking at the full text of the message, or the finer details of the budget itself. But to say any of this is to risk dissembling.
In part this is because the budget document only describes the most general American aims and purposes. In no way does it detail what a few million federal employees, and the hundreds of millions of people who see some of this funding, will do.
Here’s an analogy from our daily experience. When you set out in your automobile, you have a destination. It may be the store, work, the kids’ school, home, grandmother’s house. How do you get there? There’s only one way. To make a series of mistakes…and (the important bit) to (quickly, gently, frequently) correct them. So, throughout your drive, you’re successively going…too fast…too slow…too far to the right…too far to the left. Those really are your only choices. Never are you doing the right thing for any length of time. Note that the two keys are to know where you’re going, and to make needed adjustments promptly. Blindfold yourself, and the outing won’t go nearly so well. Go together with someone else who argues with your decisions and actions at every step, and you won’t be so successful either. You’ll probably arrive all right – only frazzled.
Here’s another reason for optimism. Education? Innovation? Rebuilding infrastructure? Coming together? When it comes to high-minded goals such as these, with their potential for capacity-building, we’re not in competition with our neighbor. We’re on the same team. In fact, the most likely way we can go wrong is to lose our focus. While it’s true that can happen to us corporately, the main arena where this occurs is individual – and that choice – to remain disciplined, or to lack it – is under our control.
So, tomorrow, and in the weeks ahead, let’s work to maintain a little more focus on our responsibilities, whatever they may be. Let’s forego distractions…and foremost among these are those distractions that stem from worry, anxiety. When we’re most focused, we also tend to be more relaxed.
And that starts with a good night’s rest. It’s not just beckoning you…it’s your solemn duty.