Introducing the Better Use of Time and Talent (BUTT) Act Each time I am treated to Congress's latest effort to dumb down the issues in order to satisfy the agenda of this or that special interest group, or to indulge in adolescent temerity strictly for the sake of exercising one's frustration over having to abide by the rules like everyone else, I just can't help thinking of a quote from the man who remains perhaps America's most insightful political observer of all time, Will Rogers, who once suggested: "It's a good thing we don't get all the government we pay for!"
This pearl applies beautifully to the tantrum de jour, H. R. 2417, AKA the infamous "Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act", a childish, snotty and (frankly) not-so-bright piece of misbehavior which has manifested itself into a proposed congressional act calling for the repeal of light bulb energy standards that are part of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2007.
Egged on by bitter venom dispensers like Limp Dishrag or Rash Lumpskull or whatever their names are, it seems that some in Congress will use any excuse to exercise their egos and indulge in their petty resentment without regard for the time and money they waste, resources that could be put to much better use in constructive efforts toward public service or even perhaps, (do I dare suggest?) acts of leadership.
They prey on the willing ignorance and enthusiastic distrust of those who have been exposed to just enough of the facts to eagerly believe that they will suddenly be forced to use some new and scary product of someone else's choosing, in this case, mercury-laced, expensive compact fluorescents, which actually represent only one of the options available.
What they conveniently decline to mention is that manufacturers are already producing a variety of new energy-saving bulbs for residential and commercial use, including incandescent bulbs, that look, feel and operate just like the ones we've been using for many decades, they just happen to be about 30% more energy efficient.
Oh, and by the way, those energy standards that are set to go into effect in January are expected to save consumers more than $10 billion a year on electric bills. But hey, what does that matter when compared to being told what to do? Rogers is also quoted as having remarked:
"I don't make jokes, I just watch the government and report the facts!"
Unfortunately, distractions like the not-so-bright act are not all that uncommon. Earlier this year, in fact, we were treated to a distasteful and embarrassing outburst from another elected official who mounted the bully pulpit in a shameless show of grandstanding to verbally abuse public servants because he resents having to comply with regulations that restrict how many gallons of water go down the drain each time he flushes his toilets at home.
The benefits from the low-flow regulations, which have been in effect since the 1990's and now take the form of the WaterSense program (which has resulted in saving a cumulative 125 billion gallons of water and more than $2 billion in water and energy bills), are apparently irrelevant to some, even though according to EPA "by the end of 2010, reductions of 16.7 billion kWh of electricity and 6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide were achieved through the use of WaterSense labeled products."
Just goes to show, you don't want to get between a politician's pet peeve and his satisfaction of being above the law, regardless who else benefits. Perhaps this is the kind of behavior Rogers had in mind when he said:
"If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?"
All of these behaviors and detours, like the three ring performance we are witnessing around the looming debt crisis, get in the way of attempting to deal with some pretty important issues and they distract both lawmakers and their constituents from more serious business.
So where do we go from here?
Whoever decided that cats are the best example of critters that are impossible to "herd" apparently never tried rounding up sacred cows. Now there's an exercise that takes wrangling - by every definition of the word - to a whole new art form. I'm not sure that even Rogers could get a rope around this one.
There are a couple of particularly exasperating aspects awaiting anybody foolish enough to attempt to do this. One, there has never been a sacred cow that would voluntarily be the first to go into the corral. And two, those who worship sacred cows are terrified of having any discussion which would suggest the slightest hint of change to the status quo, decrying any such undertaking as guaranteeing a stampede to complete slaughter, an all or nothing proposition.
This is the situation we find ourselves facing when it comes to the ongoing, politically motivated battles in Washington over the 2012 U.S. federal budget and the larger issue of how to get at least an initial loop over the horns of our unbelievable national debt. Sure, all the beltway buckaroos talk a good story around the campfire but it doesn't take long to identify the vast majority of them as dime store cowboys once the ridin', ropin' and brandin' starts.
Of course, there is no way I can employ all these mental images and metaphors of the Wild West without including another quote from Will Rogers. Perhaps the one that best fits the present fiasco goes:
"Alexander Hamilton started the United States Treasury with nothing, and that is the closest our country has ever been to being even!"
While we can point to periods when there have been exceptions to his assertion, the sad truth is we have never been farther from "being even" than we are today. Not ever. And yet, it is almost impossible to find any person or group willing to step up and volunteer to put some skin in the game, even though to do so could open the door for some badly needed cooperation.
A glimmer of hope came in the recent communications from AARP, one of the most powerful forces in American politics, who suggested that they were willing to soften their traditional stand enough to at least discuss changes to retirement age standards and benefits. They know the writing is on the wall for Social Security and the undeniable truth is that we are a rapidly aging society. These and other stark realities have forced us all to look around the corral for some ways to cull the herd.
The real trick is in getting the sacred cow ranchers to shine the light on all the facts, not just the ones that serve their own select purpose and goals. For the real estate industry, this might mean putting all the cards on the table when it comes to the discussion of the mortgage interest deduction (MID), long considered untouchable by many.
Rogers' priceless observation on economists, "an economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's", might lead us to the conclusion that the explanations of the impacts of the MID on the housing industry depend on whose economist you consult. And the answers may take on a bit more clarity, even for those of us who are part of the vast "uninformed and unwashed", when we actually see all of those cards on the table face up.
Industry groups trumpeting the results of homespun "surveys" designed to prove that Americans almost universally demand complete preservation of the MID may actually offer little more than proof that we have to be wary of "lies, damn lies and statistics". In part, the answer is always shaped a great deal by how the question is asked.
I suppose it is entirely reasonable to expect most "likely voters" (I'm uneasy with this label because it makes me wonder whether it then automatically includes a disproportionate percentage of people who have mortgages to pay) to respond that they support the MID when it is served up as one size-fits-all, simplistically crafted as an ominous threat to Mom, apple pie and the American Dream.
But would the results read a little differently if those surveyed were given a set of options that included not only the blanket "assault-on-the-middle-class" version, as posed by industry, but one which broke out the various nuances such as which income levels benefit the most, who does and who doesn't actually employ the MID, and the carefully avoided parts of the policy that allow tax breaks on second homes, including (if you know how to play the game) recreational vehicles and house boats?
I'm suggesting that if you hand pick your subjects and put the right spin on the device to get the results you are seeking, your survey may be about as meaningful as asking a barber if you need a haircut. Seems to me, the outcomes of these conveniently-timed exercises are more than a little predictable. Besides, flirting with the truth seems a poor substitute for taking ownership of it.
The point of all this is that if we have any real hope of beginning to resolve the social, economic and environmental issues facing us, or for finding ways to remove some of the hostility that permeates so many layers of discourse in our society, including the political arena, then somebody is going to have to take a chance, make a leap of faith, and offer to be the first to shoulder an even bigger share of the load, at least to get things started in the right direction.
Rogers may have said it best:
"You've got to go out on a limb sometimes, because that's where the fruit is."