Both Parties Fail Test Of Leadership

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The circus continues. Last week, the first installment on a haphazard, poorly considered trillion dollars worth of federal budget cuts took effect as both parties once again failed the test of leadership.

The Republicans in Congress and President Obama set the stage for the pathetic display more than a year ago. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner failed to agree on a balanced, desperately needed mix of spending cuts and tax increases that would have reduced the projected increase in the federal deficit by $4-6 trillion in the course of the next decade. The rejected deal resembled the painful, but common-sense prescriptions offered by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction committee.

Instead, they put off the hard decisions until after the election. Hoping to make themselves act responsibly eventually, they agreed to a meat-ax set of cuts dubbed “sequestration.” They avoided enraging the powerful senior vote by putting off limits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — about 20 percent of which goes to pay the nursing home bills of the impoverished elderly. Please note — entitlements account for two-thirds of federal spending.

That left only “discretionary” spending — like unemployment benefits and the national defense. It will now apparently result in a roughly 9 percent cut in discretionary domestic spending and a 13 percent cut in military spending, applied on a blunt, across-the-board basis.

The election came and went, with no discernable change in the willingness of both sides to make a deal.

So on Friday, the automatic spending cuts kicked in after all. Neither side distinguished themselves in the dispiriting wrangling that led up to the failure to act.

The Republicans held to their insistence that any tax cuts at all will harm the economy — presumably even more than the 750,000 jobs lost by the automatic cuts. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats offered their alternative to the sequester cuts that would have not only raised taxes, but increased the projected deficit by $9 billion.

President Obama persistently exaggerated the likely impact of the automatic cuts, without ever offering a comprehensive proposal that would have done something to contain the ultimately ruinous rise in the debt and entitlement programs.

A pathetic performance all around.

Rep. Paul Gosar — who represents Rim Country in Congress — only compounded the ugly, partisan failure to address the needs of the nation in his speech on Saturday in Payson when he insisted that the President and the Democrats want to destroy the country. We agree with Rep. Gosar’s contention that the Democrats have failed to offer a serious proposal to deal with the spiraling cost of Medicare and the alarming rise in the federal deficit. But his harsh, hysterical, hyperpartisan attack only underscores how we got into this mess.

Braying donkeys and dancing elephants belong in the circus — not in charge of our future.

Neverland mandates

Sometimes, it seems like education reformers ought to be trying to revive Tinker Bell, instead of telling teachers and principals how to teach our kids.

You remember Tinker Bell — the cute little fairy from Peter Pan that could be revived by fervent wishing? Well, seems like politicians and bureaucrats in Washington figure that they can revive schools by simply wishing — and setting some fantasy standards.

Witness today’s story on special education in the Payson Unified School District. That story rang alarm bells about special education, including the revelation that a full 18 percent of our kids qualify as special ed students. That’s about 10 percent higher than the rate in most other districts. Worse yet, only about 38 percent of those students are hitting the marks set by their educational plans.

We’ll look at that situation in future stories.

But for now, we’re focused on one tidbit taken from Dr. Barbara Fitzgerald’s presentation to the school board. She noted that the federal No Child Left Behind rules require every single child in the district to be performing at grade level by 2014 — including most of those special education students. The federal guidelines do allow the district to seek waivers for up to 1 percent of the students, if they have major emotional, thought or physical disorders. That’s not much comfort for a district in which 18 percent of the students take special education classes.

Fitzgerald noted that the middle school once again has the most trouble getting kids to perform.

So we do hope that the district will take a much closer look at what’s going on at the middle school — and pay close attention to the progress of the special education students throughout the district. But we also hope the state and federal politicians will let them do their jobs and desist from this endless stream of absurd mandates. Better they should spend the time clapping and cooing for Tinker Bell than mucking up our schools.

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