The government’s back in business. Woohoo. As if we should all congratulate members of Congress for doing their jobs. Sort of.
The politicians, of course, will congratulate themselves for ending the budget impasse that began on Oct. 1, as if they’ve accomplished something other than shaving already-weak economic growth by several basis points and trashing what’s left of America’s global reputation. Not so fast, guys. The shenanigans in Washington have pushed real priorities further into the background. Here are eight big enduring problems that have only been getting worse as Congress overdoses on needless drama:
1. 14 million Americans can’t find a good job. Sure, companies hire a few people every month, but we’re stuck in a cycle of hesitancy in which companies remain reluctant to hire until business picks up, while consumers hoard money, waiting for signs that everything’s getting better. Anybody in Washington have a plan for getting out of that rut? Anybody? Hello?
2. The tax code remains a mess. There used to be bipartisan agreement that the tax code was overcomplicated and unfair, with too few people paying taxes, too many loopholes for wealthy filers and a corporate tax scheme that discourages big companies from investing and hiring in the U.S. The latest budget deal sets up a Dec. 13 deadline for Congressional negotiators to reach agreement on tax and spending reform. That’s similar to a “supercommittee” set up in 2011 for much the same purpose. If you don’t remember that, it’s because the supercommittee accomplished nothing memorable before disbanding.
3. Medicare is still headed for insolvency. It’ll run short of money in 2026 if nothing’s done to reduce costs or come up with new funding. That might seem like a long way off, but needed changes to this vital health-care program for seniors will take years to get through Congress and will then most likely need to be phased in gradually, to soften the impact. Getting started on that yesterday would have been a good idea.
4. Social Security still isn’t fixed. Modest changes, such as reducing benefits for wealthier seniors and more aggressively raising the retirement age, would put this retirement program on sounder footing. No rush, though – there’s still another 15 or 20 minutes before Baby Boomers start flooding into retirement en masse.
5. America is still falling apart. Maintaining a world-class system of roads, bridges, ports and other types of infrastructure used to be a bipartisan priority that was as good for big companies shipping goods as it was for unionized workers laying pavement. Now, improving infrastructure is exclusively a Democratic fantasy that seems to have no hope of drawing needed Republican support. Maybe we should change America’s motto from “E pluribus unum” to “Detour.”
6. Immigration remains unreformed. Earlier this year, it looked as if Congress might actually pass a new law to deal with 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., allow more skilled foreigners into the country and harness immigrants to help boost tax revenue and economic growth rather than detracting from it. Yet that effort seems to have died as if it were Obamacare II: The Sequel.
7. Nobody trusts the U.S. government. Americans don’t, foreigners don’t, even U.S. politicians don’t. It’s easy to sit at home and gripe about the government. But when elected officials become less popular than drug-addled starlets, they can’t govern effectively, the economy slows and everybody loses.
8. Another budget standoff is imminent. The latest deal to “resolve” the looming budget breakdown only lasts for a couple of months, with new deadlines set on Jan. 15, 2014, for funding the government, and on Feb. 7 for extending the debt ceiling. That’s right: We will soon fight the same battle we just went through one more time. If you’re feeling fed up with all this, so is every other American -- minus 535 or so.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.