This is the summer of our discontent. Across America and throughout Penn's woods people are angry. In addition to dealing with arguably the most difficult economic times since the Great Depression, sweeping change at the national level and political gridlock in Harrisburg have infuriated voters.
Just six months ago this week Congress passed and the new president signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as the stimulus. The massive spending bill approved $787 billion in new government expenditures with the stated goal of jump starting the national economy.
It hasn't worked. According to the Heritage Foundation, the economy has shed a net of 2.8 million jobs since enactment of the stimulus. This has caused the national unemployment rate to jump from the already high level of 7.6% to 9.4% with joblessness topping 10% in 15 states.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans told the Gallup Organization in a recent poll that they believe the stimulus has not worked. On top of that, it has dawned on many taxpayers that somebody is going to have to pay for the $747 billion stimulus along with the Toxic Asset Relief Program (TARP) which preceded it last October, and the Omnibus spending bill that passed later in the spring.
When it comes to spending the Obama Administration along with their allies in Congress appear to have overplayed their hand. Much as former President George W. Bush squandered his political capital by failing to reform the nation's social security system, Obama has blown his capital by pushing for too much spending too fast.
The administration may have seen its last significant victory when the House passed its version of the cap and trade bill ostensibly designed to combat so-called global warming. The practical impact of the bill would be to dramatically increase the amount of money most Americans will have to spend on energy and on products which require energy to manufacture, which is to say just about everything. Dubbed "cap and tax," the bill is likely to die or be substantially altered in the U.S. Senate.
The boiling point appears to have been reached with the advent of the health care reform debate. Americans fed up with profligate government spending and rapidly expanding federal control into every aspect of our lives have rebelled over the Obama Administration's plans to nationalize health care. Anger has poured forth at town hall meetings across the country, and now appears likely to derail not only health care reform, but the rest of Obama's liberal agenda.
The president's job approval ratings have dropped along with the collapse in public support for his policies. As we pass Labor Day, the 2010 Congressional campaigns will be shifting into their beginning phases making it dramatically more difficult to cobble together a majority in support of any controversial bill.
Meanwhile, along the banks of the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania state government has ground to a halt. Nearly two months after the deadline for passing a state budget only a partial spending plan is in place. Governor Ed Rendell vetoed large parts of the balanced budget passed by the legislature because it did not include money he insists upon spending, but cannot fund.
The national recession has taken a large bite out of state revenues and legislative Republicans refuse to raise tax rates or to implement new taxes to make up the difference. Returning to their party's historical roots of fiscal conservatism, the GOP is insisting on cutting spending rather than raising taxes.
Governor Rendell has been accustomed to getting enough Republicans to abandon their principles to get his way on state spending. That is not happening this year and is not likely to happen. The GOP won't raise taxes, and Rendell won't accept lower spending. Thus we have gridlock.
The stalemate has gone on long enough a wide array of organizations dependent upon state funding are feeling the financial pinch. They are now picketing the capitol demanding a budget be passed. Rendell claims he feels their pain, but refuses to budge in lessening his spending demands.
And so We the People of Penn's woods have a double reason to be frustrated and angry this summer of 2009. The national administration is in the process of destroying America as we know it, and we don't have a complete state budget because the governor vetoed the parts that didn't spend enough of our tax dollars.
There is good reason to be mad. And if our elected representatives think it's getting a bit heated right now, wait until they face the wrath of voters next year at the polls.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)