Presidential elections decide only who wins the White House and a congressional majority. They don't by themselves solve the nation's problems. George W. Bush had a majority Republican Congress and did little with it. President Obama had a majority Democrat Congress during his first two years in office, but appeared to let ideology trump solutions, causing additional harm to the economy.
What will happen if Mitt Romney wins the White House, but Democrats maintain a Senate majority? Even if Romney wins (likely) and Republicans capture the Senate (unlikely) and maintain their House majority (likely), will real change take place? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Mitt Romney's appeal for bipartisanship "laughable" and said he would block Romney's "severely conservative agenda." We can guess what Reid's agenda will be if Democrats maintain their Senate majority.
Perhaps Reid sees this as payback for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's comment in 2010: "Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term." At least McConnell waited two years into the Obama presidency. Reid has launched a preemptive strike.
This is what a majority of Americans hate about politicians. It's all about them and rarely about those who pay their salaries and are most affected by what they do, or don't do. Politicians have managed to insulate themselves from the consequences of most of the legislation they pass.
Must we continue to watch them play "chicken" over the financial health of the country? Will Congress show some maturity during the coming lame-duck session and avoid the fiscal cliff and "Taxmageddon"?
My financial adviser Ric Edelman has sent a letter to his clients about these twin financial monsters threatening the country. First is the expiration of several tax cuts, including the Bush income tax cuts, the payroll tax holiday, and the coming new taxes associated with Obamacare, which conveniently kick in after Election Day.
Quoting from the tax firm Ernst and Young, Edelman lists them:
- The federal capital gains tax rate will rise from 15 percent to a maximum of 24.7 percent.
- The federal tax rate on dividends will rise from 15 percent to a maximum of 44.7 percent.
- The federal tax rate on interest will rise from 15 percent to a maximum of 44.7 percent.
- The payroll tax will rise from 4.2 percent to a maximum of 6.2 percent.
- The estate tax, currently applicable to estates above $5 million, will be applied to estates worth just $1 million.
Many economists believe such large tax increases will lead to reduced consumer spending, sparking another recession. Given its spending history and lack of self-discipline, it is unlikely Congress would use any extra revenue to shrink the national debt. It is more likely to engage in new spending.
As important as avoiding the "fiscal cliff" is, avoiding the impact of "sequestration," mandatory, across-the-board federal spending cuts, which Congress stupidly believed would impose responsibility on its members, ought to be of equal concern. These spending reductions, including on defense spending, take effect Jan. 1. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said the impact on national security would be "disastrous."
Voters can't just cast ballots and think they have solved these problems. They must stay engaged.
There is a virus in Washington that eventually touches nearly all politicians. It's called incumbency. Once elected, most politicians consider reelection their major goal, not doing the difficult work of reforming the tax code, reducing spending, and living within the means of the people who do the work and send them money, hoping they will spend it responsibly.
Regardless of the election results, "we the people" must keep the pressure on our officials, because the lobbyists surely will. Who would you rather have your congressman hear from, you or them?