An evangelist on the federal budget crisis, Maya MacGuineas is part pessimist, part optimist.
For the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, pessimism comes with the job. She believes, as do others, that the federal government is peering over the ledge of a fiscal cliff. And she fears that, when leadership is most needed, Congress may punt once again.
So what gives her cause for optimism? She believes that the deficit is finally, and no longer, an “ugly stepchild” issue, as the 2012 election looms.
“We will have a discussion now, and I think it is a tremendous opportunity,” MacGuineas said Monday.
MacGuineas was in Boise for a forum at the Statehouse, the first stop in her group’s “Fix the Debt” tour. Before that, she joined Sen. Mike Crapo for an interview with the Statesman editorial board.
Editorial boards make a great habitat for talking budgets; in fact, MacGuineas’ resume includes a 2009 term on the Washington Post’s editorial board. I’m self-aware enough to recognize that pundits and think tank folks love to kick around Big Issues such as the deficit; this condition doesn’t make us better people, just wonkier ones.
The good fight for MacGuineas is to take this discussion to the people. For voters, the 2012 election will be a referendum on jobs: jobs held, or sought, by those closest to them. By hammering away on the unemployment rate, Republicans will do their best to make this a jobs election.
McGuineas says, rightly, that the job market is “incredibly connected” to the deficit and budget uncertainties. “It’s clearly affecting economic growth already.”
CEOs get this connection, she said, and are among her group’s most vocal allies. They see the fiscal crisis affecting their bottom line. But, she says, there is still work to be done in helping families see this connection.
MacGuineas, a political independent, is heartened by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s presence on the GOP ticket. “Most issues try to get on the agenda. We’re on the agenda.”
I remain skeptical about the Ryan effect; as I wrote last week, running mates don’t usually drive the presidential storyline. And the storyline is hostage to what I call (this week, at least) the Todd Akin Effect. All it takes is one politician, one ludicrous comment, to steer the 24/7 discussion in an entirely different direction.
MacGuineas says the “Fix the Debt” campaign is ready to deliver the message on several fronts: legislative lobbying; touring the states; CEO outreach; building partnerships; social media; traditional media and branding. It will take every tool, and an evangelist’s drive, to get the budget the attention it deserves.
A JUDGE DROPS THE HAMMER
The John McGee jail sentence revolves around two key points.
Æ The first is timing. Eight months after his Father’s Day 2011 drunken-driving arrest — and while he was on probation — McGee committed a crime described, charitably, as disturbing the peace. Prosecutors say he made “sexually provocative” comments to a 25-year-old state Senate staffer.
Æ The second is the setting. This took place within the halls of the Statehouse, where McGee was the No. 4 ranking Republican in the Senate, before the staffer’s sexual harassment complaint resulted in McGee’s abrupt resignation. McGee was in a position of power, not just in politics but in the workplace environment of the Senate. He abused his power.
These facts were not lost on Magistrate Judge James Cawthon, who presided over McGee’s sentencing Tuesday, 13 months after accepting his guilty plea on the drunken-driving charge. The judge clearly had no appetite for apology. So he sentenced McGee to 88 days in jail. Even if this sentence is halved, which is within Cawthon’s discretion, it would greatly exceed the five-day sentence recommended by prosecutors and McGee’s attorney.
Keeping with the no-nonsense order of the day, Cawthon had McGee booked into jail immediately, instead of granting him a few days to sort out his affairs.
Cawthon went his own way, for the right reasons.
McGee’s act of “disturbing the peace” — not to be confused with, say, a pulsating car stereo — violated the basic bounds of workplace decency and decorum. McGee, 39, grew up and entered the labor force at a time of heighted awareness of sexual harassment issues. How did this guy miss the memo?
McGee basically groveled before his Senate colleagues in January — convincing them to vote, not unanimously, to keep him in leadership. He couldn’t even stay out of trouble for the session. No wonder Cawthon dropped the hammer. Good for him.
Perhaps, but perhaps not, Cawthon was sufficiently forceful that McGee will get the message. But on Tuesday, when he had the chance to apologize to his victim, McGee instead spoke about himself, and his failure to live up to the “privilege” of Senate service.
What hubris, and misplaced priorities. I doubt McGee will ever again have to worry about living up to the “privilege” that comes with elected office.
Kevin Richert: 377-6437, Twitter: @KevinRichert