“A plague on both your houses,” said the dying Mercutio to the warring Montague and Capulet families in Shakespeare’s tragic play, “Romeo and Juliet.”

In this particular scene, Romeo, who secretly had forsaken family loyalty to marry Juliet, was trying to avoid a fight between his friends and his new in-laws. Despite his efforts to cool tempers, his friend Mercutio was mortally wounded.

In facing death, Mercutio recognized the futility of the everlasting feud and laid the blame equally on the families whose hatred had poisoned the peace in the city of Verona.

Rather than end the violence, Romeo perpetuates the feud by killing Mercutio’s assailant. And the war continues.

The incessant feuding of Democrats and Republicans in Washington deserves equal condemnation. Americans are suffering while the political elites disrupt the peace and prosperity of the nation.

With our economy just limping along and a crushing debt weighing upon this and countless generations to come, two very recent decisions affirm why we all should be enraged by the behavior of many Republicans and Democrats in Washington.

The first decision was the Dec. 3 vote of President Obama’s 18-member National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (www.fiscalcommission.gov).

The bipartisan panel has worked for nearly a year evaluating every aspect of the federal government and concluded that Congress needs to bite the bullet and make dramatic changes in our spending and taxing habits.

The report, titled “The Moment of Truth,” recommends reducing the national deficit by nearly $4 trillion over the next 10 years by cutting spending and raising taxes.

By a vote of 11-7, the commission endorsed the recommendations, which include lowering income tax rates from 35 percent to 29 percent for both individuals and corporations while eliminating many popular tax breaks.

It would increase the Medicare co-payment while reducing Social Security benefits. It would also raise the retirement age at various points in the future.

Relatively speaking, it makes modest changes to produce a favorable outcome. In short, it imposes spending discipline on Congress and raises taxes to fill the hole in the budget.

Why? “If the U.S. does not put its house in order, the reckoning will be sure and the devastation severe,” says the report’s executive summary.

The data say so and we all know it.

Here’s the tragedy. Though achieving an 11-7 majority vote was nice, the commission had to deliver 14 of 18 votes for the report to be referred to Congress for immediate action. The support of the 11 included both Republicans and Democrats.

For old hands around Washington, a simple majority was progress and a source of hope. Some Republicans showed they were willing to increase taxes and some Democrats were prepared to cut spending.

But for Americans who brought Obama to power and just as decisively fired the Democratic majority in Congress two years later, patience is wearing thin.

Last week, a second decision flew straight in the face of the fiscal commission report. On Tuesday, Obama and congressional leaders appeared to strike a compromise on spending and taxes.

Republicans succeeded in extending the Bush-era tax cuts while the president succeeded in extending unemployment benefits and lowering individuals’ payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

While investors on Wall Street responded positively to this short-term thinking, the price of gold continued to climb. Gold is the investor’s hedge against inflation, which is the worst tax of all because it robs paychecks and savings of their value.

The tragedy in this compromise is that there was no mention of how to pay for it. No insistence on spending cuts. The assumption must be that we will continue to borrow money from China and force less prosperous generations to repay the loan years down the road.

We all deserve better, and the longer we have to wait for the remedy, the worse our condition will be.
We are Mercutio dying on the sword of debt thrust into our heart by both the allies of the wealthy and opponents of less spending. We are victims of warring political families.

At the end of this Shakespearean tragedy, the Prince of Verona, the region’s ruling authority, addresses the families of the now dead Romeo and Juliet.

He admonishes them all:

“Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished;
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Let us not be victims, but rather let us assure our leaders that we will support responsible fiscal choices.

However, should they fail, we must punish some and pardon others until sufficient numbers are in office to solve the problem.

What do you think and what are you going to do about it?

Tony Payne is a lifelong resident of Maine who is active in business, civic and political affairs. He may be reached at: [email protected]