In my opinion, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley clearly won the first Republican primary debate when she spoke political truth to ideologues, of which the nation has an abundant supply these days. 

You can’t get a federal ban on abortions, she said, when you don’t have the votes in the Senate.

In other words, if you care deeply about an issue but don’t have the votes to enact your own ideas, you need a plan B. 

And those seem to be in short supply these days.

Without a plan B, all you have is political theater or, to quote Shakespeare, “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The same can be said for a lot of things, including the current push to impeach President Joe Biden, which got a boost this week as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced he was tasking three committees — Oversight, Judiciary and Ways and Means — with investigating the president and his family.

If the Republican-controlled House were to approve articles of impeachment, the Democratically controlled Senate would need a two-thirds majority to convict. That’s highly unlikely. We’ve been there before. Recently.

And plan B?

Maybe there is some sort of symbolic shame attached to the House passing articles of impeachment against a president up for reelection, but impeachment has become such a common political tool now that this is doubtful.

The impetus to all this is hardly a secret. By the end of this month, the House has to decide on a way to fund the federal government to avoid another shutdown. Some on the GOP’s far right have tied their support for a funding bill to an impeachment inquiry. 

And plan B? How about just fixing Washington’s financial mess? Apparently, regular rank-and-file Americans would really like to see that.

A new poll by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on fiscal matters, found that Americans who are registered to vote don’t want a government shutdown. Instead, 91% of Democrats and 89% of Republicans said lawmakers from both parties should focus on finding solutions to the national debt, which is approaching $33 trillion.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announces impeachment inquiry into President Biden
Sens. Mike Lee, Mitt Romney respond to House impeachment inquiry into President Biden

The poll also found 68% support among voters for a new commission that would recommend reforms to reduce the debt. 

That sounds a lot like The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which President Barack Obama formed for that very purpose. You may remember it, if you’ve heard of it at all, as the Simpson-Bowles plan. Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, and former Clinton White House chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, were called upon to head that effort. 

They came up with a remarkably clear-eyed plan that would have required a bit of necessary pain from all sides. Social Security’s retirement age would have risen to 69 and benefits would have been cut for younger workers. It would have cut defense spending and farm subsidies. The federal gas tax would have risen and tax deductions for things like mortgage interest would have disappeared. 

Government spending would have been capped at 21% of GDP, and discretionary spending would have reverted to 2008 levels, after adjusting for inflation, which was low at the time.

Simpson and Bowles couldn’t even get enough votes from their own commission to pass the plan, but it was a taste of what Americans needed.

And it probably was a lot less than what the nation needs today. The national debt at the time was only $12 trillion.

You can’t tackle the nation’s fiscal problems without tackling its two largest budget items — Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid — and that takes hard, bipartisan work.

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It’s not as if all of today’s lawmakers are ignoring this. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney has introduced the Trust Act, which would set up bipartisan “rescue committees” for trust funds, including Social Security.  Utah Sen. Mike Lee has proposed indexing the retirement age to life expectancy and allowing people to invest some of their Social Security contributions in private accounts.

But these don’t seem to get any traction. 

The poll didn’t mention impeachment. Another recent one by Public Policy Polling did, and it found people split along party lines on that question.

That’s no surprise. The impeachment question is bound to generate a lot of sound and fury and division. Perhaps it will generate enough to cover the lack of a good plan A for keeping future generations from fiscal ruin, let alone a plan B.

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