Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bird-Brained Expectations

After the latest - and hopefully last - blast of winter from Mother Nature that had the nation's capitol on lockdown Monday, Congress and most of Washington, DC will technically get back to work today. We're not expecting much in the way of actual accomplishments though, in large part because the outcome of today's big announcement by President Obama has already been written - literally.

Like the whining we've heard from billionaires lately, the cliched way many on the right are questioning Obama's "toughness" in handing the Ukraine/Russian conflict, or the way some airlines are changing their passenger benefit plans, neither the outcome or the events themselves should be particularly surprising to anyone who has paid any real attention to current events.

In case you're someone who doesn't travel much, recently Delta airlines announced some big changes to their frequent flyer program. In short, their program will no longer reward those who fly the most miles. Instead their new program will benefit those flyers who spend the most money, regardless of how many miles they fly. United made a similar change that just went into effect last month.

Frankly, the way the corporate structure of the airlines has become, this frequent flyer change shouldn't be surprising to anyone. The airlines want more money from fewer people - and the market incentives have been adjusted to reward those airline corporations for acting that way.

Like being surprised that birds who fly through the air occasionally poop on the people below, no one should be surprised that airlines are focused almost entirely on profit these days. In a similar way, some of our colleagues in the national media seem unusually excited about the President's budget announcement, though we're not sure why.

In case you hadn't heard, President Obama and his White House team are rolling out yet another major policy prescription today, namely the 2015 White House budget proposal. The President's budget will call for an end to austerity, and a significant increase in investment in America's infrastructure, which would create a significant number of short- and mid-term jobs.

Not surprisingly, Republicans in Congress have their own budget plan, which screws the poor and working class and rewards the rich, much like the frequent flyer programs from the airlines. Of course, there are those who will tout that both President Obama and Rep. Paul Ryan's plans include expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. However, only President Obama's plan will include proven efforts to boost jobs and boost the minimum wage - an idea even Warren Buffett noted in supportive comments this week.

With all these good ideas flying around, and politicians on Capitol Hill getting back to work, if you're an optimistic person, you might think something - even something small - might get accomplished in Washington, DC.

As we noted at the start of today's commentary, that's not likely going to happen.

Lori Montgomery reminded us in Wonkblog on Monday, when Congress signed the latest budget deal, they signed a deal that set the spending levels for two years, through fiscal 2015. Montgomery noted this while also reminding anyone wise enough to pay attention that Senator Patty Murray announced on Friday that Senate Democrats see no need to waste time drafting a budget this year, since the deal they just signed with Republicans was for two years.

In short, nothing is going to happen on the federal budget - which really shouldn't surprise anyone who's been paying attention to the budget battles in our federal government.

To have any other kind of expectations about how our government "works" right now is, sadly, to have completely unrealistic expectations.