Each passing week brings more evidence that our political system is dysfunctional. Take, for example, Medicare. Weighing in at a cost of $500 billion annually, the program’s expenditures are out of control; analysts forecast its spending could grow to account for as much as 10 percent of GDP in 2080.
Attempting to rectify the problem, leaders on both sides of the political aisle have proposed significant changes. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan put forward a proposal to reform and save Medicare [pdf]. Former Sen. Alan Simpson and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles also laid out a plan [pdf] as chairs of the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Commission.
The Beltway’s response lacked the same seriousness with which the proposals were given. President Obama ignored the commission’s recommendations. And Democratic leadership and even a Republican presidential candidate have savaged Rep. Ryan’s plan for political gain by propagating distortions, misinformation, and extreme political ads — including one which shows the Congressman pushing an old woman in a wheelchair off a cliff.
Examples of frivolous partisan politicking don’t end with Medicare. Lawmakers have spent the past few weeks playing a high-stakes game of chicken with the debt ceiling issue. And D.C. has seen practically no substantial movement on immigration reform for at least 10 years because few seem willing to compromise with the kind of80 percent solution that was good enough for Ronald Reagan.
Energy also falls on the long list of neglected priorities. Part of today’s problem reflects a failure to act responsibly 10 years ago when Democrats and President Bush failed to concentrate on finding common ground.
Demand for gasoline today is lower than it has been in the last 5 or 6 years; yet, prices at the pump are $1 a gallon higher than they were this time last year. Crude oil prices are about $30 higher than market forces would dictate. And little is being done in D.C. to push for fundamental restructuring of decades-old energy policies and regulations that impose unnecessary costs on the refining industry.
Domestic oil production stands a little over 5 million barrels a day but could have been higher. (Just this week Exxon discovered three new sites in the Gulf estimated to hold the equivalent of 700 million barrels of recoverable oil.) With a positive and realistic energy policy the ground work could be in place to increase production by around 2 million barrels a day before the end of this decade. Instead, permitting for the Gulf and parts of Alaska are proceeding at the speed of a glacier.
The Alaskan pipeline with a capacity of 2 million barrels and day is moving less than half of that. The low volume of throughput can cause serious operating and technical problems. If companies are not allowed to move ahead with exploration and production in promising areas of Alaska soon, the pipeline will likely be shut down and then dismantled according to existing law. The people in Alaska want the benefits of developing their oil resources but are being thwarted by political orthodoxy.
We need more domestic oil to avoid increasing imports from insecure sources and to create expectations that would put downward pressure on prices. None of this represents a new revelation. These facts have been known for years; however, Congress and Administrations opposed to oil have taken no action.
Instead, they have wasted time and resources promoting alternative energy sources that will not meet our economic needs for decades to come if ever. To make a bad situation worse, EPA is now objecting on environmental grounds to the Canadian pipeline that would bring secure imports to the Gulf coast. Only a bunch of zealots could conclude that oil shipped by the safest method — pipelines — represents a greater risk than imports from the Persian Gulf by tanker.
The bias of this Administration against fossil energy is just plain shameful.
Our nation’s wellbeing cannot endure continued failure of political leadership and responsibility. We face tough problems but not insurmountable ones. What is needed is a willingness to work the problems and to find common ground. Compromise without compromising principles is not a vice. As Thomas Jefferson once observed, “every differences of opinion is not a differences in principle.”