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Fareed Zakaria: 'We've Downgraded Ourselves'

While I do not agree with all of the points Fareed Zakaria made during this segment, like comparing protecting our social safety nets to the Republicans rigidity on tax increases and painting those as being somehow equivalent; especially if you're
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While I do not agree with all of the points Fareed Zakaria made during this segment, like comparing protecting our social safety nets to the Republicans rigidity on tax increases and painting those as being somehow equivalent; especially if you're talking about raising the retirement age on Social Security instead of raising the income cap to keep it solvent for the long term. That said, I was glad to see someone point out just how destructive the Republicans use of the filibuster has been as he did here. And I agree with his points on the need to do more spending on education and infrastructure to get our economy growing again.

Transcript via CNN:

ZAKARIA: We've downgraded ourselves. We've demonstrated to ourselves, the world, to global markets that our political system is broken and that we are incapable of implementing sensible public policy.

The actual cut to the 2012 budget, which is the only budget over which this Congress has any control, is $21 billion out of a total of $3 trillion in expenditures. Everything else can and will be changed by future Congresses. What the deal does is once again kick tough choices down the road, this time to a Congressional supercommission that will have to come up with a larger plan to reduce our debt. And it does nothing to spur growth, and, without growth, the debt and the deficit will expand well above current projections.

The manner in which the deal was produced has added poison to an already toxic atmosphere in Washington, making compromise even more difficult. Democrats now feel they need to mirror the Tea Party's tactics because they worked and they are becoming unyielding on any cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare. Republicans, emboldened by the success of their bullying, have closed ranks more solidly around a no-tax agenda, which is great, but the only solution to America's debt dilemma needs to involve both cuts to entitlement programs and higher tax revenues. Congress is more polarized than ever before, and that polarization has resulted in paralysis. More than two years into the Obama administration, hundreds of key positions in government remain vacant for lack of Senate confirmation. The Treasury Department, for example, had to handle the global financial crisis, recession, bank stress tests, the automaker bailouts, as well as its usual duties with about a dozen of its senior positions, almost its entire top management, vacant, nobody in there.

Senate rules have been used, abused and twisted to allow constant delay and blockage. The filibuster, which was historically employed about once a decade, is now a routine procedure that allows the minority to thwart the will of the majority. In 2009, Senate Republicans filibustered a stunning 80 percent of major legislation. Given how the chamber is composed, two senators per state no matter how thinly populated those states, people representing just 10 percent of the country can block all legislation.

Is that how a democracy should function?

These dysfunctions come at a bad time. The United States faces intense pressures from an aging population, technological change, globalization, new competitors. We need smart policies in every field. We need to pare back spending in areas like health care and pensions, but we need to expand it in others like research and development, infrastructure and education in order to boost economic growth.

In an age of budgetary limits, the money needs to be spent wisely and only on programs that are effective. But, in area after area - energy, immigration, infrastructure - government policy is suboptimal, a sad mixture of political payoffs, corruption and ideological positioning.

Countries from Canada to Australia to Singapore are implementing smart policies, copying best practices from around the world. We bicker and remain paralyzed.

If, as a result of these Congressional antics, interest rates on America's debt rise by one percent - in other words, if the world asks for just a little bit more interest in order to lend us money - the budget deficit will rise by $1.3 trillion over 10 years. That would more than wipe out the entire 10 years of cuts proposed in the debt deal.

That's the system at work these days.

For more on this, you can read my cover story in this week's "Time" magazine or Time.com.

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