Mike Capuano is not apologetic about his belief in government. He doesn’t try to cast himself as a progressive or any other adjective that cloaks his unabashed liberalism as anything other than what it is- an admiration for what government, however flawed, can do to help people. He deplores the mire in which Congressional lawmaking is stuck but is optimistic that the impasse won’t last forever. If he thought otherwise, he told a New England Council gathering Tuesday, he’d get out.
Meanwhile, the 7-term 8th district Congressman sticks with persuading people to his cause. Take the GOP attack on Social Security. People forget, he says, that before Social Security, many seniors had to choose between food and fuel. Their adult children had to give them money each week to help with expenses. With Social Security, the next generation of adults could put that $100 a week toward their own kids’ education. So the standard of living was able to improve from one generation to the next. “The Ryan budget would change all that,” he said.
Contrary to arguments on Capitol Hill, Capuano noted that there isn’t such a bright line between public and private sectors. The transportation and highway reauthorization bill, long bipartisan but now stopped dead by political animosities, is about building public infrastructure but generating private sector jobs. The architects, engineers and contractors who won’t work next year due to the impasse are private company not government employees. “No one tarring any road, or building a school or public housing is a government employee.” “To think government is here and the private sector is over there is wrong.”
The Senate passed the transportation bill 95-to 3. The problem is that the Republican House leadership are in thrall to a minority of 30-40 members who don’t want to spend on anything, and the leadership won’t even bring the bill to the floor despite support on both sides of the aisle.
Capuano would be pleased if things improve after the election, but he is doubtful, noting that most of those who are there now will be there after the election and will be just as unreasonable. New people who have come down to “fix” Washington don’t have a clue as to how to legislate or compromise, he observed. But he is at least as upset with those who claim to be moderate but won’t stand up for their positions.
Putting things in a global context, Capuano observed the mess that Europe is in. “They thought they could cut their way out of their problems,” he said. “No country in modern history has succeeded in doing that.” As for the U.S. tax burden, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) has ranked 34 industrialized countries. The United States has among the lightest burdens.
The impasse in Washington won’t end, he predicted, till the American people actually experience the loss of programs they take for granted, many of which came into being after 1955. The jolt will be triggered by sequestration, automatically cutting defense and non-defense budgets starting next January 2.
Though Capuano calls for more compromise, he seems unimpressed by the message coming out of the Obama campaign. “I don’t know what the message is. I know Romney’s message is, I hate government, and I hate taxes. The Obama message lately seems to be ‘We’re like them. We don’t really like government. We don’t really like taxes.’ That’s not a real message.”
Capuano went further, sharing his concern that the Obama campaign isn’t interested in working with anyone who actually knows anything about politics. “It worked once; it may work again.” But Capuano says we need to call people “to their higher level.” The problem is that in a down economy, those better selves may be feeling battered. At least Capuano is out there sounding his own distinct clarion call.