Budget Vaporware

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Actual products have virtues and faults. Promised products are perfect. In the computer industry, machinery (hardware) and programs (software), as delivered, are real. Promised products (Vaporware) are full of air until they become actual products.

A few decades ago, vaporware promises were briefly used as a competitive technique, but it didn’t last long. Once the technique was understood, vaporware lost its value.

Unfortunately, vaporware, or, more simply, hot air, has long been used in politics. A vaporware scheme is easy to identify. The politicians promise the public will “get more” and “pay less”.

This is usually the promise made by the party which is out of power. If we will just “throw the bums out”, all our problems will be solved. What is different in the last few years is the use of vaporware by the majority party in the United States.

Barack Obama won the Presidency in 2008. At the same time, the members of 111th Congress were chosen. It included an overwhelmingly Democratic House of Representatives and heavily Democratic Senate. In fact, the Senate majority hovered near the sixty seats to have complete functional control.

It took a while, but the 111th Congress passed and the President signed a massive change in health care, the “Dodd-Frank” Financial regulation bill and other policy changes the Democrats have been supporting for years. The long-term effect of these actions is uncertain, but the public was promised that our healthcare would improve and we would save money. Also, “Dodd-Frank” would prevent future “meltdowns” like the one in 2008.

But, to the surprise of the Democrats, the public was not happy. Polling has shown a continuing decline in support for Obamacare. Whatever benefits may come in the future, the present is marked by uncertainty. 

During the 2010 Congressional elections, it was clear the Democrats would face a hard time, and their program was the problem. They realized the best thing they could do was to “Run Silent, Run Deep”. The first step was to avoid any discussion of specifics in the period before the election.

While talking about the budget is enough to put most people to sleep, it also contains specifics about what will and won’t be spent. Those specifics can be used to get people angry. Therefore, the Democrats, although they had majorities in both houses in 2010, refused to pass a budget.

Once the Republicans got control of the House of Representatives after the 2010 election, the game changed. Although the Democrats have the Presidency and a majority in the Senate, they are trying to play the “outs” game. They are trying to paint themselves as the “out of power” party fighting to save everything from the Republicans.

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has developed a plan to slow the rate of growth in government spending. While his plan makes no changes to Medicare or Social Security for anyone over 55, there are changes for younger people designed to keep the plans functioning for future generations.

This is as specific and real as legislation gets. But it gave the Democrats the opportunity to sell vaporware. The Republican House of Representatives passed the Ryan Budget and sent it to the Senate. It was rejected on essentially a “party line” vote. No Democrats voted for it and a handful of Republicans voted against it.

The Democrats, knowing that specifics can be attacked, have refused to propose a budget of their own. Earlier in 2011, Mr. Obama presented a budget containing tax increases to fund some of his programs. The Senate rejected his budget 97 to nothing. That is, no senator of either party voted for it.

The Democratic response to the “Ryan Budget” has been to launch a “Medi-scare” campaign. They are promising a Vaporware world where everything is affordable and taxes will only go up on other people. They are running hard against any specifics offered by either the President or the Republicans.

The Democrats are convinced that by laying low and refusing to mention specifics they can hold on to something in 2012. If they hold the Presidency or the Senate or regain the house, they will be able to block the reversal of the programs enacted in the 111st Congress. If they lose all the branches, major legislative changes are likely.

The question for the 2012 voters will be, are promises better than reality, or, is vaporware something the public will buy.

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