Both President Obama and his Congressional adversaries have shown themselves to be better at mak-ing tough talk to each other than making the tough choices necessary for the country. Their response to the so-called “fiscal cliff” did not involve a single tough decision and actually increased the national debt.
The country continues to face more budgetary trench warfare. Another fight is guaranteed over the previously imposed spending cuts known euphemistically as “sequestration,” over the debt limit, and on and on.
Entitlements are the greatest budgetary problem. The average Medicare couple, for example, pays $109,000 into the program and gets $340,000 back. The unsustainability of this is spectacularly obvi-ous. There will be nothing left of Medicare for our kids except the bill run up by us, unless the program is seriously reformed. Such reform will require politically painful tough decisions on the part of leaders who have shown time and again that leadership and courage are way beyond their grasp.
It’s reported that Senate Democratic Leader Reid and his Republican counterpart, Senator McCon-nell, so distrust and dislike each other, that civil communication between the two is virtually impossi-ble.
In spite of how bleak things look for progress in Washington, things are looking much better in Helena where a new civility is emerging among Montana’s political leadership.
Governor Steve Bullock is off to a great start to become an effective leader. His successor as Attorney General, Republican Tim Fox, has publically praised Democrat Bullock for his helpfulness with Fox’s transition into the office Bullock just left to become Governor. This speaks well for both Bullock and Fox, especially since they opposed each other in the election for Attorney General four years ago.
Likewise, new Republican Senate President Jeff Essman and Republican House Speaker Mark Blaisdel, have publically indicated a strong desire to work cooperatively with the new Governor. Bullock has emphasized his equal desire to do so with them.
“ Just words,” skeptics will say. Perhaps. Certainly we’ve seen pledges of cooperation dishonored in the past. But as an observer of legislative sessions for over four decades, the 2013 session appears to me to be genuinely starting out with more hope for civility, good faith, and therefore accomplishment and productivity, than has been the case going back to the Governor Marc Racicot years of the 1990s’.
The good that can come of this is great. Our state government is in a position to create jobs by invest-ing in long postponed building projects that can greatly benefit current as well as future generations of Montanans. Unlike the burdensome national debt, Montana can afford to give a tangible legacy to our children and grandchildren, paid for in the lifetimes of people who are alive today. And, in the near term, the construction projects, primarily on our college campuses, in Billings, Great Falls, Missoula, Butte, Bozeman, Havre, Dillon, and at the Historical Society Museum in Helena, can provide badly needed good private sector jobs, not in the North Dakota oil patch, but right here in Montana.
At the same time we can afford to give our public sector employees a pay increase that has been de-layed for four years, and we can also deal importantly with the developing unfunded liability of state pension funds.
State government can tackle traditionally thorny issues like tax reform, and laws pertaining to re-source development. Within reasonable limits, these things can all be accomplished, and with a sizable surplus left over.
I think our civil Montana leaders are poised to give a civics lesson to our uncivil leaders in Washing-ton.
Bob Brown is a former Montana Secretary of State and State Senate President.