ATLANTA — A day of reckoning is coming for Republicans and conservatives, and it is approaching rapidly.
Because of a series of natural disasters, unspeakable acts of terrorism, and the responses to them, this country is headed beyond a mere budget crisis. We're drifting toward a five-alarm financial fiasco.
And like Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, attention is focused on issues like the Senate's handwringing about the Supreme Court seats to be filled. Meanwhile, huge sums of money are necessarily committed to restoring what's left of the Gulf states after hurricane Katrina.
Here's an example of how quickly the tab is mounting up. Over a period of around five days recently, the US Army Corps of Engineers put out a request for proposed bids to clean up debris in the areas impacted by Katrina. Before those five days were done, five contracts for $500 million each had already been awarded. That's $2.5 billion doled out in no time flat.
This spotlights the painful budgetary collision between spending that's unavoidable and spending that's discretionary. The problem is that no "discretion" is being exercised.
Public opinion surveys show that it's not just Democrats who are expressing concern about the growing federal deficit. Many Republican and conservative responders to polls are also starting to say they think spending is getting out of control.
We can't pay for every need of senior citizens, build new highways all across the continent, bankroll the most sophisticated military in history, rebuild entire regions of America following one hurricane after another, keep terrorists from crossing our borders, donate money to needy foreign peoples, and also keep everything else running as smoothly as we're accustomed - at least not without a massive tax increase of some sort.
I have known and personally like former President Clinton, even though we come from opposite sides of the political aisle. While I generally praise him for being a reasonable Democrat, I have to respectfully disagree with his current suggestion that we must eliminate the tax cuts passed under President Bush.
The capital gains tax cut that was passed by Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress and allowed to become law by President Clinton in the mid-1990s helped spur the economic heydays of the 1990s, including the great stock market expansion of that time.
In like fashion, the tax cuts proposed by President George W. Bush and passed by the Republican Congress helped rescue us from the recession that Bush inherited when he took office.
Surely the last thing we want to do is burden the taxpayers with the costs of this string of unfortunate events that has beset America in recent times.
Small business owners, entrepreneurs, and corporations are supplying most of the nation's jobs, and the burden on them will only increase as they will be relied upon to absorb the many workers displaced by Katrina. Punishing these job creators is the absolute last thing our leaders should resort to.
Better that we confront reality. We need to speed up our exit from Iraq. That doesn't mean that we should leave our troops in harm's way or abandon the Iraqi people.
It does mean that we should recognize that our form of government will probably never hold in a land where religious zeal overrides Western notions of government and law.
And yes, we also need to look at a modification of the recently passed transportation bill and a scaling back of the prescription drug benefit for seniors.
More important, the time has come for President Bush and Congress to trim the massive growth of many federal departments and agencies. The Department of Education is a prime example.
Add to that list the endless checks we cut for nations all over the world. For example, the situation in Africa is horrible, and yes, we do stand as a leader for helping the world's miserably needy.
But we are going to be forced to reexamine our commitment to other nations of the world, no matter what desperate straits they are in. Instead, we are soon going to shift our focus to the worrisome needs of one particular nation that suddenly finds itself reeling - the United States of America.
There isn't much time to waste. If you don't believe it, just ask the voters.
• Matt Towery is an attorney and author of 'Mean Business: The Insider's Guide to Winning Any Political Election.' Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.