There is an old political and cultural adage that states: "As California goes, so goes the country."
If there is any validity to that quote, then the nation is headed for chronic dysfunction for the foreseeable future.
The California Legislature has long been saddled with gridlock and the inability to make difficult decisions. It has become beholden to an initiative process known as direct democracy, which is in essence, "special interest" democracy.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., made it clear that Washington, D.C., might be following California's irrepressible and uncertain path.
"Millions of jobs could be lost through the automatic cuts, programs families depend on would be slashed irresponsibly across the board, and middle-class tax cuts would expire. And once again, if Republicans won't work with us on a balanced approach, we are not going to get a deal," Murray said at a speech at the Brookings Institution.
Given the current political climate, translating Murray's tough talk: If Republicans don't play ball, Democrats are prepared to go over the cliff.
Have those who represent us on Capitol Hill been reduced to 535 adolescents who have all embraced a my-way-or-the-highway mentality? Meanwhile, if nothing is done, we risk trillions of dollars in debt descending on the nation by year-end.
Difficult decisions need to be made and all we hear from elected officials is what won't happen.
If Congress simply allows what is called the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of year that would return 2 percent to the gross domestic product. I realize that runs counter to President Barack Obama's desire to only let the tax cuts expire on the highest earners, but our problems are greater than calculated political positions.
Contrary to the prevailing urban myths, the tax cuts are not an economic stimulant, will not create small business Armageddon, do not lead to long-term growth, nor do they doom the long-term fiscal outlook for the nation.
But allowing the tax cuts to expire in GOP-speak is a tax increase.
Roughly 90 percent of Republicans on the Hill have signed a no-new-tax pledge. This is, in my view, an immoral pledge that places political ambition over the oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Doesn't the deficit qualify as a domestic enemy?
It makes Republican members of Congress more beholden to the author of the pledge, Grover Norquist, than the interest of the people who elected them and ostensibly the interest of the nation.
Fortunately, not all Republicans fall into the Norquist camp. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn wrote last week in a New York Times Op-Ed, "The problem with the pledge is that it is powerless to prevent future automatic tax increases and has failed to restrain past spending ... . Every dollar we borrow is a tax increase on the next generation."
Regardless of the outcome in the general election, the most likely scenario will be divided government, which I believe is best for the nation. But that assumes compromise will no longer be viewed as a derogatory term.
We need a deal; we need both sides to give up something. It seems the best deal would be to link revenue increases with entitlement changes.
What we don't need is for Congress to follow California's tradition, by waiting to the eleventh hour, kicking the can down the road, and appearing in photo-ops celebrating a hollow victory.
I remain optimistic that something will get done, but I keep hearing the lyrics penned by Stephen Sondheim, "And where are the clowns, send in the clowns, don't bother, they're here."
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.