The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


December 18, 2013

Geoff Caldwell, columnist: To fix Washington, bring back Iacocca attitude

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., stepped up to the podium last week to announce that they had reached an agreement on a two-year budget deal.

Many in the professional punditry class were already praising it as a breakthrough for the ages, the beginning of a brave new world of bipartisan compromise.

Now I’m no professional, but I have been following such goings-on since a guy named Nixon told us he wasn’t a crook. I can assure you the “professionals” heaping praise on Ryan and Murray right now are about as correct as Nixon was in ’74.

Coming just weeks after the National Park Service erected barricades around the World War II memorial and military families were denied death benefits, Ryan was in no mood to return Republicans to the black hole of government shutdown and Murray was desperate to free Democrats from the sequester that for two years had curtailed their spending spree.

But the deal is nothing new. Politics over policy, punt over product, Washington as normal. Increased spending now is to be paid for by promises kept later — never mind that those promises cannot be kept because one Congress cannot impose upon future Congresses.

The deal does not address what truly drives our budget dilemma: entitlements. Nor does it provide relief from the devastation of the Affordable Care Act. It also ignores long-term unemployment benefits.

In short, it doesn’t address of anything of importance to anyone not already insulated inside the beltway of Washington.

Topping it off, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., released his 2013 “Wastebook” on Monday. A compilation of some of the worst of the worst of federal spending, it is an annual reminder to just how nonsensical Washington, D.C., has become.

The total this year is around $30 billion and ranges from destroying $7 billion worth of military equipment as we pull out of Afghanistan to the State Department blowing over $600,000 to increase the number of “likes” on its Facebook page.

You don’t have to be a fan of Coburn to realize that the amount of waste and stupidity being perpetrated upon the American taxpayer these days is staggering.

But it’s not just the politicians to blame. It’s an attitude.

Take two men from two different times: Lee Iacocca, the former Chrysler icon, and Dan Akerson, current CEO of General Motors.

In 1983, Iacocca delivered a payoff check with interest for the government loans he had secured for Chrysler in 1978 and stated with pride: “We at Chrysler borrow money the old-fashioned way. We pay it back.”

Thirty years later, Akerson, speaking at the National Press Club, squashed the thought of GM repaying any of the $10 billion loss U.S. taxpayers took on GM stock with President Obama’s bailout plan by rationalizing that Treasury took the same risk as anyone else who purchased stock and therefore GM owes nothing.

What a difference indeed — Iacocca paying off seven years ahead of schedule versus Akerson’s “you play the game, you pay the price.”

So here we are. We’re supposed to write off the loss of $10 billion as our own fault for not being smarter investors, and we’re supposed to be all Christmas cheer because the Ryan/Murray deal delivers $23 billion of empty promises out of projected spending of over $40 TRILLION this next decade.

No wonder Americans are in one cynical mood.

What we really need for Christmas this year is fewer Akersons and more Iacoccas.

Geoff Caldwell writes on national and international affairs. He lives in Joplin. Contact him at

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