Monday, December 06, 2010

Were they to tell you the truth, you wouldn't vote for them...

Why do politicians lie? Are politicians as callous, power hungry and self-absorbed as they are often portrayed? Often politicians find themselves in a position that they have to be deceptive in order to get bills or budgets passed. But really whose fault is it? The citizens? The politicians? Or both? The reality of it is that, if politicians were to tell the truth, no one would vote for them-hence the tension. The public demands results, and politicians are expected to deliver these results otherwise they are not expected to stay elected for long. This is compounded a few times over, when money is involved.

Ideally, budget should reflect the values and priorities of the people who are represented. Budgets are taken as a contract that is a moral document resembling, and representing the values of every individual in the family, community, state or nation. For a politician, who is to decide what these collective values are, it is no easy task. To take an example from recent events, the Affordable Care Act signed into law on March 2010, by President Barack Obama has generated a lot of tension among the public and the Obama administration. This battle continues to be partisan and even the democrats who were in support of this bill are distancing themselves from what they believed as a good investment for the American people. This is particularly true for those who are seeking re-election. It seems that the public has “conveniently” forgot that the passing of the bill was a result of the public’s demand for better and affordable healthcare over the years. Before he was elected, Obama had clearly stated that there would be healthcare reform, and the public seemed to be in accordance on the much-needed reform. However, when he presented the bill with the projected $1.6 trillion cost, the public was in an uproar. What the public saw or heard was that their taxes will be much higher, and that it might take up to 10 years for the benefits of the reform to be reaped. Two things are underplayed. First, the public forgets that they played a key role in having the bill passed. They had a chance to speak to their representatives in congress, and they were given a platform where they could speak out and ask questions regarding the law. There were negotiations between the different parties, and the different interest groups. Earmarks were added, and subtracted, and in the end, it was agreed upon, being a fraction of the bill that had originally been proposed. Second, what the public does not hear or understand is that the costs are projected over the next ten years. Even though Obama gave the public what they wanted, he is facing criticism and public distrust based on the people’s projection of the cost of the bill and a feeling that their money is being misused.

Public budgeting gives a window of analysis on the role that both politicians and those they represent play in the overall political outcomes that are projected in the local, state and national politics. The budget process has rigid constraints enforced by those who pay and the multiple actors with differing goals. Furthermore, the process expresses the current environment, and ultimately attempts to resolve the tension generated by the separation of those who pay from those who make the decisions. The process of budgeting can be determined as a cause and effect whereby the public’s aversion to loss provides a platform where politicians either deliver or they are replaced. Ultimately, the public wants money spent well because where people spend their money reflects on what they value. This becomes complicated when the money is on a state or national level where the budget is to reflect on the collective values of those being represented.