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Posted 11/30/11 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

It’s about time that members of the U.S. Congress step back from whatever it is that they are doing, or more importantly, not doing, and take a good long look at themselves in a mirror and ask themselves, “What am I doing in Washington, D.C for the people of my state and my nation, and am I getting the job done?”
Most politicians in Congress would like to say that they are doing great and noble work that is beneficial not only to the people who elected them but to the nation as a whole and that they are highly successful in their efforts. Unfortunately, even though politicians would like to say that, they can’t, at least not publicly.
Probably more important is that no matter what a member of Congress has to say about what they are doing, the American people wouldn’t believe them. According to a recent poll only nine percent of Americans approved of Congress’ performance.
And those approval ratings have been on a downhill slide because of their inability to solve the problems facing the country.
Two glaring examples of the Congress’ inability to function are  how it dealt with the federal deficit deadline and how it is going to deal with cuts to Medicare.
When it came to dealing with the nation’s debt, it became obvious that Congress couldn’t come to a consensus on how to deal with the nation’s budget woes, so they passed the buck to a Super Committee to do the work for them.
The trouble was the 12-member Super Committee was just another 12 members of Congress. And as we watched the deadline for them to present their budget reduction, it became painfully clear that not even these “magnificent 12” could come up with a single way to trim the nation’s debt or to stop the hemorrhaging.
As a result, two things are now probably going to happen. First, $1.2 trillion of automatic across-the-board spending cuts will kick in on Oct. 1, 2012 and extend over the next 10 years. Because of inaction by the Super Committee, half of the cuts will come from defense spending, while the remaining cuts will come from education, agriculture and environmental programs, and Medicare. Second, the Bush tax cuts will expire for everyone at the end of that year and the temporary cuts in the payroll tax and the extension of unemployment benefits may not be continued.
While members of Congress missed the opportunity to be the leaders that they assume that they are by failing to make the hard budget decisions that needed to be made, hopefully, they will somehow find it within the realms of possibility to fix Medicare funding before an upcoming Jan. 1 deadline which could slash the fees that doctors charge their Medicare patients by as much as 27 percent.
What does a 27 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement mean to the millions of Americans who rely on that program for their healthcare needs. It’s simple, they probably won’t be able to find a doctor to treat them.
The problem now facing Congress, when it comes to this aspect of Medicare funding, is that they have literally boxed themselves into a corner. They must come up with $22 billion in either new tax revenues or other budget cuts jut to keep the funds flowing for another year.
And considering how well Congress has handled budget decisions in the past, one wonders if Congress has the ability or stomach to solve this financial mess as well.
While Congress may have punted the pain and suffering that will come with the $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts until after the presidential elections, come this January, America’s elderly could very well be paying the price for their inability to act.
And Congress wonders why the American public holds it in such low esteem.