Stuck in the snow this morning in Illinois, I keep remembering a couple of phrases: “Keep your eyes moving.” “Here comes a decision point.” Those were the two phrases the passenger in my 18 wheeler used incessantly a little over a week ago. He is a driving instructor with the company I drive for and he was doing an annual evaluation to make sure I hadn’t developed any unsafe habits in the last year. A driver with over one million accident free miles under his belt, he is worth his weight in gold to the company and to those drivers willing to listen and learn. Since we were in Atlanta, he made it a point to direct me to some of the most difficult intersections, the tightest turns with the most obstacles, the most narrow roads, and those little areas that are known to have the highest concentration of drivers who have taken complete leave of their senses even by Atlanta standards.
The interesting thing was that even after successfully negotiating a tricky intersection or turn, something unexpected would happen that reinforced the general stupidity of letting one’s guard down. Don’t pat yourself on the back because you made a sharp right turn without taking out the garbage truck on one side or levelling a telephone pole on the other, because you now have a city bus coming at you on your left and a pedestrian on your right, and your speed schedules you to meet them both on a narrow bridge. What to do? Change the schedule by applying the brakes and letting them cross the bridge first. I haven’t read George Bush’s book yet, but if it doesn’t make the point that these “decision points” have a nasty habit of showing up unannounced and uninvited, he’s missed a sterling opportunity.
I was remembering the admonitions the driving instructor made while listening to various news stories this week. A decision point was reached in negotiations about extending the current tax rates, for example. What does a two-year extension of current rates tell the job creators among us, other than that their rates will go up in two years? Does a two year extension really position them to make long term reinvestments in their businesses or ramp up their payrolls? Of course not. And yet, that’s what passes for “predictability” in the tax debate. And in exchange for this small extension, we add billions to the deficit for more unemployment benefits, and any number of pet projects such as ethanol subsidies? Was this deal really reflective of the sentiment the voters expressed in November? Decisions have ripple effects far beyond what can be seen at the time the decision is made. What might be the effects of a deal that doesn’t spur the kind of growth needed for recovery, yet adds still more debt?
Meanwhile, more decision points loom. As Professor Rahe has pointed out, the National Labor Relations Board, in the absence of congressional action, is preparing to implement a card check system that would deny employees the right to vote by secret ballot on questions of whether or not to unionize. Similarly, the EPA stands ready to implement its own version of cap and trade, again in the absence of congressional action. Meanwhile, Congressman Fred Upton, whose primary claim to fame thus far has been his role in what Ricochet member Kenneth famously calls the “55 MPH Light Bulb” law (where the feds presume to dictate what kind of light bulbs we may and may not purchase), is poised to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the new congress.
My point is simple. Important decisions are being made now. The lame ducks in congress, the cuckoos in the administration, and the dodo birds in the new congress are all reaching decision points with major implications for our future and our children’s future. And these decisions will be made regardless of our holiday schedules or competing priorities. This is no time to become complacent or allow ourselves to be distracted or diverted. As my instructor said, we should keep our eyes moving, scanning events, and stay engaged. Decision points don’t take holidays.