Commentary: Congress and the President ‘Fiddle as Rome burns!’

washington teardrop headquarters museum
Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Editor’s note: The opinions here are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of

By Ray Friant

Democrats and Republicans are both wrong! They are debating a Band-Aid for one enacted law, while they should be using a fire hose to put out the fiscal fire which, un-checked, will destroy our nation. And the President seems impotent at a time when bold action is imperative.

Total federal revenue is $ 2.5 trillion — just under the amount needed to cover annual entitlements. Thus, the government is obliged to borrow an additional $ 1.3 trillion every year in order to have the money to run the government…including the Defense Department, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Administration, Justice, etc. As of today the cumulative deficit spending has ballooned our nation’s debt to a staggering $16 trillion.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS? OR PATRIOTS FAN? Sand sculpture of George Washington and football at 2013 Morristown Festival on the Green. Photo by Katharine Boyle
BY GEORGE, enough of the political football! Photo by Katharine Boyle

If you want to understand this, watch this short presentation by Hal Mason, a retired financial expert.

The current government shutdown (like those past, and most likely those yet to come) came about over a discussion of relatively meaningless proportions.

Democrats bury their heads in the sand and won’t cut any spending as they conger up new ways to give away more of other people’s money, while Republicans want to re-fight wars they already lost instead of negotiating and compromising to improve what they don’t like.

Meanwhile, the President seems more focused on his legacy than on the survival of the United States.

All the while, the budget deficit and national debt continue growing to monstrous proportions!

If either party wants to know what to do, myself and millions of other citizens can tell them…if only they would listen.

Okay. Do what?

FIRST, get entitlements down, that’s what. And no rational person that I know expects this to be done quickly. But it won’t get done at all unless someone in either the White House or Congress has the guts to start — because start we must.

For starters, Social Security and Medicare must be indexed. If it were me, I’d index the retirement age for both programs up from age 65. For citizens whose current age is now between 45 and 50, the retirement age for benefits would go to 66. For those between 40 and 45, it would be 67; for 35 to 40, make it 68; for 30 to 35, push it to 69; and for 30 and younger, delay retirement benefits to 70.

Then there must be a stated philosophy as to when and under what circumstances the index would be redone, to help maintain a balanced budget so  future generations won’t be confronted with silly (and for some, devastating) shutdowns.

Ray "Jerry" Friant, columnist and author of 'Beyond Buzzwords: The New Agenda for Directors, CEOs & Executives.'
Ray “Jerry” Friant, columnist and author of ‘Beyond Buzzwords: The New Agenda for Directors, CEOs & Executives.’

When Social Security was started the life expectancy after retirement was around five years. But life expectancy has skyrocketed —while retirement age is frozen at 65 and is now viewed as an entitlement. This must change. Citizens must earn a living for themselves and their families up until they are within five or seven years of their expected life span before federal retirement benefits kick in.

SECOND, implement a real cost saving program that culls waste. Periodically someone “gins up” a new buzzword for culling waste, like “zero based budgeting.” Unfortunately these schemes seldom achieve real cost savings — and they can’t because to change means challenging bureaucracy’s self-serving self-perpetuating growth mantra…and no bureaucrat is likely to do that.

It will take independent analysts with performance-based yardsticks to get the job done. Again if it were me I’d adopt the analytical philosophy espoused in my 2006 book, Beyond Buzzwords: The New Agenda for Directors, CEOs, and Executives.

THIRD, make the Congress live by the same rules as the common man. Today they can shut the government down but still get paid themselves. They can enact universal health care laws for the nation but have a different more lucrative free plan for themselves. Their incentive immediately after winning election is to campaign for re-election rather than cooperating with other elected officials to enact what is best for the country. To millions of Americans this sucks!

In our nation, serving our country has historically been viewed as a responsibility and a privilege — not a career. If Congress wants to restore citizens’ faith in government then Congress must not allow itself to become superior to other citizens.

And Congress’ loyalty must be to every citizen — not party affiliation “über alles.”

FOURTH, allow initiative to be rewarded. When I was growing up I learned that the United States was a place where everybody had an equal chance to become unequal. The thought still makes sense. Everyone is an individual. And all individuals have the right to use their talents to try to maximize their achievements…or not if they so choose.

Politicians who espouse making the rich pay a little more are really buying into the Socialist philosophy. To me this is wrong. I buy into the free-enterprise system that really does allow people to have an equal chance to become unequal…and then to enjoy the fruits of their labor if they succeed.

SAD DAY AT WASHINGTON'S HEADQUARTERS...Congress shuttered the federal government. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
SAD DAY AT WASHINGTON’S HEADQUARTERS…Congress shuttered the GW museum in Morristown this week. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

FIFTH, if, and only if, these cost reduction measures are not adequate to balance the budget and make significant strides toward paying-down the debt within five to seven years, then consider raising taxes.

SIXTH, and finally, elect a true leader as President. My ideal for a real leader was Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio. When I was in college I visited the Senate. They were debating statehood for Alaska and Hawaii (which I happened to support).

The late Sen. Robert A. Taft, Republican of Ohio
The late Sen. Robert A. Taft, Republican of Ohio

One at a time Senators were standing and orating about coal and gas and vacations and you name it. During this debate, Sen. Taft, Majority Leader, was on the floor receiving and answering notes and having sidebar discussions with many Senators from both sides of the aisle.

Finally, he signaled that he wanted the floor. He stood, said that he was for statehood for both, then enumerated the flaws in the bill before the Senate, and called for the measure to be defeated with the proviso that he would let it be reconsidered promptly after the legislation was fixed.

His demeanor and logic were stellar. And both sides of the aisle defeated the bill by voice vote. Now that is leadership — a brilliant, knowledgeable, warm, tough, country-first patriot working for the benefit of the country — not working for high-paid lobbyists, or fringe factions, or cronies, or voting blocks that believe they are due a favor at the expense of the rest of the country.

Ray (Jerry) Friant lives in Morris Township, belongs to the Morristown United Methodist Church and is active with Morris Habitat for Humanity. The retired corporate turnaround executive is the author of Beyond Buzzwords.

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  1. Ray – agree strongly with you (and Frank). I wrote a whole paragraph expanding on what you said and it froze my machine to death. I quit. Dick
    ps I suspect NSA

  2. Ray, I totally agree that the current debate between alternate paths doesn’t treat the underlying problems in our economy. My take is that we are not producing enough goods and services that we buy from the rest of the world versus what the rest of the world buys from us. This problem is greatly exacerbated by the government spending fom .7 to 1.5 trillion more than it takes in, while our multiple-national companies leave forign profits off-shore, paying no taxes due to a myriad of reasons none the least of which is an unenlightened feral tax policy.
    I have an additional 4 reforms, 1) no bill shall be more than 50pages, 2) no member of Congress, the senate included, can vote on a bill unless they read it first, 3) all must abide by any legislation that is written into law and4) no congressmen or senator can serve for more than 12 consecutive years.