Steve G. Jozefczyk of Franklin, Wisconsin, gets out of his front-row seat and walks up to Congressman Paul Ryan. (AP Photo/The Journal Times, Mark Hertzberg)
In the last week or so, we've started seeing scenes from town halls across the country very similar to the angry town-hall meetings inspired by the health-care reform bill in August 2009. This time, Republican members of Congress are the targets. At one town-hall meeting after another, they are getting pointed and sometimes angry questions about their support of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's plan, which would slash government spending and which 235 of the 241 House Republicans approved in a symbolic vote (the budget would never pass the Senate).
Even if you're a political junkie, chances are you never gave much thought to the debt ceiling before the last couple of months. It was nothing more than an occasion, once a year or so, for a brief and little-noticed protest vote on the part of some members of the opposition party. They could make a floor speech about the administration's misplaced priorities, proclaim their hope that federal spending and taxes would be reordered to their liking, cast their not-so-dramatic no vote, and move on to the rest of the day's business. Members of both parties were able to cast this protest vote (as President Barack Obama did as a senator in 2006) safe in the knowledge that the increase would pass and no actual economic damage would result.
Something unusual happened last week: A politician suffered harm to his public reputation for telling a lie. It happens less often than it ought to -- sit through even a single afternoon of cable news or a session on the floor of one of the houses of Congress, and you're bound to hear multiple false claims without anyone jumping up to object. Only rarely does anyone pay a real price for shading the truth or even telling an outright whopper. And the way this offender -- Republican Sen. Jon Kyl -- came to his comeuppance was what made it notable.
President Obama at the White House after averting a government shutdown last Friday (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
When you listen to Barack Obama these days, it sometimes seems as though his words are crafted with the intention of driving those who were once his most passionate supporters crazy. So after agreeing under threat of a government shutdown to painful cuts to domestic programs, he goes in front of the cameras and hails "the largest annual spending cut in our history," as though that were a good thing. And before the deal was worked out, Obama said repeatedly that the controversy represented "the usual Washington politics" -- in other words, just some partisan bickering, of which one can assume both parties are equally guilty.
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
In 1986, a young anti-tax activist had an idea. What if instead of just encouraging legislators not to raise taxes, you made them promise never to do so? And made them actually sign their names to such an agreement? After all, if they accepted, they would be bound by the promise (at least politically), and if they refused, they could be accused of harboring secret pro-tax fantasies, something no good Republican would want.