They are not a gale, not even a stiff breeze — more like a zephyr really — but there are winds of change stirring Washington. There are hints that when Republicans return from their travels and their time with constituents they will be ready for some righting of their ship, which has been listing heavily to starboard.
Over in Democratic circles there are hopes that President Obama, presumably buoyed by the fall of Tripoli, will tighten his grip on the helm and begin to assert himself in ways that his party has felt that he has been missing.
The Associated Press released the results of a new poll on Thursday that showed approval of Congress has dropped to 12 percent, down from 21 percent in June, before the ugly debate over raising the debt ceiling. The Associated Press-GfK poll taken earlier this month also showed that the Tea Party has lost public support, Republican House Speaker John Boehner is increasingly unpopular and that people are warming to the idea of not just cutting spending but also raising taxes, just as both parties prepare for another struggle with deficit reduction.
Stuff happens — and when stuff happens, the political dynamic is changed.
An earthquake and hurricane, for example, has convinced people along the East Coast the cutting the funding for the U.S. Geological Survey, as has been proposed, may not be so prudent. Likewise, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration might need full funding.
Enter states in economic shock. From Maine to California, they are bracing for the impact of federal grants drying up.
At least two Republican governors, who were out in front with austerity programs, are looking less sagacious.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican Party favorite, sacrificed a long-planned new tunnel into Manhattan on the altar of economic rectitude, just before it was becoming apparent that the only way government can really create jobs is through big infrastructure projects.
Farther south, in a burst of ideological zeal, Florida Gov. Rick Scott waved off federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail and other things. So the funds traveled up the coast to be plowed into road projects in Massachusetts, much to the joy of Democratic Sen. John Kerry who crows about his state's infrastructure progress. The wily presidential hopeful Texas Gov. Rick Perry denounced the stimulus package and then pocketed $14 billion for his state.
The lesson for those who thought that statesmanship lay in placating the well-intentioned but economically challenged Tea Party movement is that surgery with a machete is doomed to terrible results when a laser scalpel is needed.
Malcolm Muggeridge, the great British essayist and popular philosopher, wrote a prescient essay on the failures of reform. Of 12 major reforms, from the Russian Revolution to the ending of Tammany Hall political domination in New York, people who were supposed to benefit were left worse off.
The latter is an issue that Obama may want to ponder as his health care reforms are implemented. Without a public option to benchmark prices, he may have covered more Americans but, in so doing, allowed for prices to further escalate.
It is by the Republicans that the larger pressure for course correction is being felt. "No new taxes," increasingly sounds about as sophisticated as what spectators to the guillotining of French aristocrats chanted, "Off with their heads!"
The public wants government to do many and mysterious things, like invent the Internet, go to Mars, cure cancer, build better highways, and keep us safe at home and abroad. Whether we enunciate it or not, we want the government to look after us in areas of health, world stature, scientific discovery, defense, and food supply and safety. Business does not do those things, and even the most rugged of individualists cannot do them for themselves.
Ergo, we have to pay for those things and the credit card is maxed out.
Tax is back on the table, if not in fashion. Tax and judicious cuts in spending.
Members of Congress also read the poll numbers. At around 13 percent, their approval ratings do not make them feel good. Nobody likes to be told they are an incompetent bum, especially incompetent bums.
So for the first time there is some feeling that the super committee, which is set to tackle the deficit problem, may actually do something before Congress allows mandated cuts — the machete to start hacking.
Just a little more wind, and a grand bargain will be scented on it. Wet a finger and hold it up in September. — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate