Standing on the edge of fiscal cliff; wooing independents

With just over three weeks until the election, there’s a lot to talk about. So let’s start talking.

First, Mark Udall is right.

In an interview with The Daily Sentinel’s Gary Harmon last week, the state’s relatively-new-but-still-senior senator said that the so-called “fiscal cliff” represents still another opportunity for the bumbling miscreants in Congress to steer out of the path of a coming debt crisis.

The fiscal cliff is that moment later this year when, all at the same time, the Bush-era tax cuts expire, automatic spending cuts to the military that were engineered as a backstop during the whole debt ceiling cluster kickin, payroll tax cuts disappear, and Obamacare’s tax hikes rear their gnarly heads.

Even as they engage in the rancor-baiting that this election season all but requires, Udall, Sen. Michael Bennet and Congressman Scott Tipton should start thinking about the opportunity that the impending fiscal cliff presents.

Want a place in history?

Want to do something really lasting — like bigger than changing signs at the entrance of some never-before-heard-of piece of federal land?

Want to do what’s right for your country?

Here’s how:

When this election is over, no matter which side wins the presidency, agitate for a meaningful, long-term budget deal.

As I told former Gov. Dick Lamm when we were appearing on a Denver Post panel a couple weeks back, the general outline of the agreement couldn’t be more obvious:

Begin by capping discretionary spending at some modest rate of growth. Cut some waste from the Pentagon. Close some tax loopholes. Increase the eligibility age for Medicare for those under the age of 55 or 50. Means test Medicare so that wealthy retirees pay a little more. Flatten and reduce marginal tax rates to kick-start the economy.

Hold press conference at the White House.

Pat yourself on the back.

Rescue America.

Call it a day.

So will they do it?

It would be easy to say, of course they won’t. Because if past is prologue, they won’t. But I prefer to assume the best and, like all Americans, reserve the right to judge harshly if our leaders miss the obvious leadership moment Udall described.

Speaking of bipartisanship, take your pen out and write this one down: Amendment S on Colorado’s election ballot is good public policy, and deserves your support.

Amendment S is way down ballot, long after Obama v. Romney, Tipton v. Pace, those important local races and, of course, the budding Marijuana Wars. And while there is no chance you will ever hear any discussion of it at a Full Moon Party (or any other place of enjoyment for that matter), Amendment S is an important first step in reforming the state’s outmoded personnel system.

Here’s all you need to know about how the state of Colorado’s employee personnel system works: It is extremely difficult for managers to hire the most qualified candidates, and approaching impossible to fire government employees who are not keeping up.

Amendment S, authored by Gov. John Hickenlooper and supported by nearly everyone except the labor unions, is a modest but still meaningful step in the direction of fixing that. It’s good government, it’s long past due and it deserves your vote.

Speaking of the fast-approaching vote, it’s an old political truism that the candidate who wins the independent vote wins the election. It’s especially true in Colorado.

So which presidential candidate is winning with independents?

A burst of polls in the last week suggest the answer is Mitt Romney, with the former Massachusetts governor leading by anywhere from 5 to 12 percentage points among this coveted voting bloc nationwide. Colorado shows similar trends.

It’s impossible to overstate the import of this. As an analyst at the magazine The Hill noted in a column Thursday, “Obama absolutely needs a big margin with indies (independents) to overcome the GOP’s registration edge, and he’s not even leading with indies in the poll. Worse, indies give him a 40 percent/55 percent approval rating, which suggests he can’t perform much better with indies in the state.”

Independent flight from Obama portends bad things for more than just his own re-election prospects. Democratic state and local candidates are no doubt up at night worrying about this development too. Because if Obama loses big among independents, history strongly suggests that Democrats down-ticket will feel the pinch as well.

Look for a withering push from Obama to reverse his decline among all-important Independents. Failure to do so will not only doom the president’s own chances in this state — it will also tilt the scales against aspiring congressmen, state representatives and county commissioners in his political party.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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I trust Nate Silver to forecast an election far more than I trust Josh Penry to do so. Silver’s analysis shows movement in favor of Romney, but he still predicts that Obama will get a second term.

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