By DAN FOSTER

CHARLESTON -- A recent article by the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce provided me with much food for personal reflection. My basic understanding of history and statistics then inspired me to further investigate a number of these articulated "facts."

For instance, it was stated that "the past 18 months have been unlike anything I have ever witnessed. For the first time in my life, I believe that our nation's free enterprise system is truly at risk."

Anyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but it was my impression and that of many experts that the free enterprise system as we know it was at most risk of catastrophe 20 months ago at the beginning of 2009. The conventional wisdom is that the inappropriate decisions of the preceding years were the primary cause of this near calamity, and, although the U.S. economy is still not healthy, the retreat from the brink occurred because of government actions of the last 19 months. The recent re-emergence of a healthy General Motors after months of government assistance cannot be considered anything other than a huge win for our market-based economy.

In the article, the chairman also noted that "Rather than reining in runaway government spending that threatens future generations, this Congress and administration have accelerated it, increasing the federal deficit as a percentage of GDP by 50 percent in the last 18 months or so and by a projected 90 percent by the end of the decade." Now, if you look at Congressional Budget Office (CBO) figures for the last 70 years you get a somewhat different perspective on relative deficit restraint.

To be specific, the figures from the nonpartisan CBO reveal that from 1940-1950 (WWII and Truman) the national debt increased by approximately 500 percent, while from 1950-1970 (Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson) it went up only 25 percent. From 1970-1980 (Nixon, Ford, and Carter) and for 1980-1990 (Reagan and Bush I), it increased 300 percent in each decade, while from 1990-2000 (Clinton), it rose only 40 percent. Finally, for 2000-2010 (Bush II), the national debt increased 250 percent, while for 2010-2014 (Obama), there is projected to be only a 50 percent jump.

All I can say is that we must be dealing with parallel universes.

Regarding tax cuts and stimulating the economy (a perfect combination according to the Chamber), none other than David Stockman, Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, noted in a recent op-ed that our present debt explosion has resulted not from big spending, but from his party's embrace, about three decades ago of "the insidious doctrine that deficits don't matter if they result from tax cuts."

Likewise, Paul O'Neill, George W. Bush's first Secretary of the Treasury, has recently called continuing the Bush tax cuts for everyone "bordering on insanity."

It was also stated by the Chamber Chairman that "faced with saving our ailing healthcare system ..., this Congress and administration rejected sensible market-based reforms, and instead imposed more mandates and taxes on business and individuals."

In response, it has to be noted that even the prestigious Business Roundtable, which includes many of the most prominent CEOs in the country, recognized the need for drastic action in our healthcare system and provided public support last fall for the basic framework that became law in March. In this comprehensive report commissioned for the Roundtable, it was acknowledged that even though uncertainty may exist for the enacted healthcare reform legislation, it is much preferable to the certainty of disaster for our economy if we maintain the status quo. In fact, many experts feel that comprehensive healthcare reform is our most potent deficit reduction weapon.

There are other examples in this Chamber piece of strong, highly opinionated statements with little factual support. To be fair, there is often a similar lack of objectivity in statements made by those on the other end of the red/blue state spectrum. Nowadays this seems to be the norm, and, for someone who has spent his life in science, I find it most troubling.

No matter what may be your political persuasion, criticizing unceasingly and being unwilling to say anything positive about those with opposing ideologies does absolutely nothing for your credibility. Whether it's economic philosophy, tax policy, healthcare, or the size and cause of our budget deficits, rather than constantly repeating shrill platitudes (more commonly called talking points) in the hope that the unbelievable will become believable, we should be having respectful and substantive debates on these complex issues.

The voting public would appreciate it and maybe, just maybe, we might come up with some solutions to these overwhelming problems. Let's face it -- it's becoming increasingly clear that neither political party has a monopoly on good ideas.

Perhaps I'm just dreaming, but I yearn for the time when we actually learned from rather than tried to out shout each other. It's not too late, is it?

Foster is a Charleston physician and a Democratic state senator from Kanawha County.

Editor's Notes: The West Virginia Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform. Foster's commentary originally appeared in the Charleston Gazette.

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