Sen. Bennet cites D.C. dysfunction
President Barack Obama needs to push Democrats as well as Republicans to resolve the nation’s growing debt, but his performance in the “fiscal cliff” debate at the end of 2012 left Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., puzzled.
Bennet, a close Obama ally who sat with First Lady Michelle Obama in the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, but who insists he’s not on the White House speed-dial, told The Daily Sentinel editorial board on Friday that the president “gets it” on the nation’s financial woes.
The final “fiscal cliff” deal, though, reflected little of that understanding, Bennet said. In what he termed an “only in Washington, D.C.,” outcome, the fiscal cliff deal increased taxes without decreasing the deficit.
“I believe he wants to resolve it and I can’t explain the difference between that view and the outcome,” Bennet said.
The fiscal cliff deal did nothing but set aside budget squabbles for two months, when a congressionally mandated set of cuts is to go into effect. The idea behind sequestration was to use unpopular cuts to drive Democrats and Republicans toward agreements.
Republicans are aware that taxes need to increase to boost revenues and that Democrats are aware that entitlements must be reduced to bring federal spending under control.
Neither side, however, trusts the other to honor an agreement, Bennet said. “It’s just a question of whether people are willing to jump at the same time,” he said.
That’s particularly difficult in an atmosphere in which many don’t pay attention to spending details, Bennet said. Few people outside Congress are aware, for instance, that while an average couple will pay $195,000 into Medicare, they’ll also cost the system $305,000, Bennet said.
It’s imperative in a political sense that Obama draw together the warring congressional factions, Bennet said, noting that “The rest of the agenda can’t get done if this doesn’t get done.” There’s no doubt that Americans want an agreement, Bennet said. “You can feel it. What’s holding people back is the dysfunctional politics in Washington.”
A similar dysfunction plagues the debate over guns.
Bennet called for a national discussion, but said he can’t support the easy availability of combat-style weapons or some large-capacity ammunition magazines.
He also rejected the idea offered by National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre for armed guards in every school and noted that as superintendent of Denver Public Schools, he removed the last metal detector from those campuses.
Bennet also said he welcomes the natural gas revolution that is pumping new life into the economy with low-cost feedstocks that are drawing some business back to the United States.
“This is going to lead to a renaissance, I think” for American industry, he said.