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By Tom Cushing

Kicking cans, or kicking cans?

Uploaded: Nov 15, 2011

Observing political jargon is a fascinating business, as lawmakers struggle to find ways to frame issues their way, and appeal to their respective bases. Pithy terms like "job creators" to refer to The Rich, and "class warfare" to suggest that those creators should shoulder a greater share of the overall tax burden are shorthand phrases that can capture an essence of a position, and conform to the increasingly ephemeral attention spans of the voting public.

The GOP has become particularly adept at generating these framing devices, pursuant to the remarkable talents of linguist and pollster Frank Luntz. As skilled negotiators know, if you can frame the issue-at-hand favorably to your position, you force your counterpart to play defense -- it's an "away game" for them on your home field.

A catch-phrase of relatively recent coinage (lest I be once again mis-characterized as living in some imaginary time-warp) is "kicking the can down the road." Its meaning refers to idle activity that defers a day of reckoning to some future time "down the road." Last summer, Congress performed that feat in addressing the ridiculous debt ceiling debate, by appointing a bi-cameral group of legislators to an over-generously termed "super-committee."

These twelve Congressfolk have been tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade, presumably because numbers with Ts in them are more impressive than B-numbers, like $120 Billion per year. In theory, these deficit reduction effects can be achieved by either-or-both of spending cuts and tax increases (or "revenue enhancements" to the faint-of-wallet). The GOP has, however, stacked its side of the group with anti-tax stalwarts who have so far held firm to their genuflections in the direction of Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform (read: "Tax Reduction"). Both sides have apparently presented their vastly different approaches, and then retired to their respective corners.

The super-committee's deadline to quit booting that poor, abused container is Thanksgiving week (cranberry sauce?), lest they trigger automatic and draconian reductions in "Defense" and so-called "Entitlements" (more jargon!) that nobody claims to want.

Setting aside the argument that leukemic demand in the economy is the real, urgent problem facing this polity, such that now is precisely The Wrong Time to reduce any counter-cyclical government spending -- especially that which palliates the real suffering abroad in the land -- this latest effort seems doomed to failure. It appears that this badly-divided, doctrinaire Congress' primary talent is can-kicking.

Already there are contingencies being proposed to ameliorate the failure – from repeal of the super-committee's charter to simply ignoring any conclusions it reaches, or fails to reach. So the limit is really not a limit, and this purported game of chicken is really only a practice scrimmage with deficit doves and hawks.

I would respectfully suggest that the real solution to this Congress' dysfunction is another kind of can-kicking – this time by the electorate, applied in 2012 to derrieres of Incumbents who will have once-again demonstrated their abject inability to govern.