As Obama’s health care reform winds its way through the labyrinth that is the American governing system, the key issue framing the debate is not the well-being of our citizens, especially those who live on the edges, but the cost, and particularly the deficits and debts that any reform will likely create.
It is perplexing to note that the American public barely flinched when billions was spent on what most now agree was a needless invasion and occupation of Iraq. When this foreign policy fiasco comes to end it will probably cost the taxpayers of this country well over a trillion dollars ( some say $ 3 trillion) and more importantly the lives of over 4600 brave American men and women.
Just as perplexing is the fact that the Bush administration left the incoming president with a $ 1.3 trillion deficit, largely the result of the war along with some accounting tricks that kept the real cost of the war off the budget books. Americans it seemed were content to shoulder the cost of the war by hiding behind their support for the troops.
Now that the Great Recession has hit, Americans have become born again fiscal conservatives, ever conscious of deficits and debts, even though the Obama health care plan seeks to keep people alive and financially secure rather than send our best and brightest to war. Much of what you hear in Washington and now around the country is the cost of the plan, the implications for the yearly deficit and the long term national indebtedness.
Of course behind all this concern with costs and deficits and debts is taxes. Americans have bought into the no new taxes mantra that has been around for well over thirty years, and point with pride that during the Iraq war with all its expenses, they got a tax cut not a tax increase. Never mind that the Bush tax policy was a rich man’s bonanza and created yearly deficits of hundreds of billions of dollars, while ignoring valuable infrastructure of all shapes and sizes and leaving helpless critical spending needs in education, the environment and certainly health care.
So the short hand conclusion that comes from all of this is that Americans are OK with foolish military spending on a foolish foreign war. But when it comes to the health of the nation, every penny has to be watched and the government must be put under the most intense scrutiny because they must be wasting our money.
It is good for a democracy to have citizens that are fiscal watchdogs who take an interest in where their money is being spent; its just that these fiscal watchdogs can’t have short memories and forget how we misspent trillions in Iraq and didn’t get much of anything in return.