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July 18, 2011

Put Down the Shovel and Stop Digging!

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Turn on a radio or television. If you don’t hear a politician or pundit drone on about the debt ceiling debate, then you‘ll hear an issue advertisement on the same subject.


It seems as though every ad running in the media is telling us why a specific special interest is too important to cut. Believe one of them and you have to believe them all.


Myth: Social Security can’t be cut since working people have been paying into the trust fund, and they didn’t contribute to the current debt crisis.


Truth: Everyone in this country has contributed to the debt crisis. Wants have always exceeded means, whether old or young, rich or poor. Likewise, everyone in this country will need to contribute to the solution.


Myth: Teaching hospital subsidies cannot be cut.


Truth: Sure they can. We could go a few years, and universities will adjust. There may be a shortage of doctors in some specialties, so patients may have a little harder time finder a provider, but we’ll be just fine.


Myth: Medicare/Medicaid can’t be cut, older Americans and poor people deserve better.


Truth: Maybe they do, but remember that shared sacrifice thing? When you find yourself in a deep hole, you should put down the shovel.


Myth: Transportation cuts will destroy our infrastructure.


Truth: Government has been stealing transportation dollars from budgets for decades with the same skill that Willie Sutton employed robbing banks. Roads will still be bumpy, airports will still take too long to get us where we’re going, but the world won’t end.


Myth: Public education must be held harmless from funding cuts.


Truth: The rapid increase in budget percentage committed to education has long been on an unsustainable path. Now the rubber meets the road, and tough choices will force school systems to make better decisions. Maybe we can finally end the grip educrats have over actually teaching children to read and write. The idea that spending more automatically results in smarter students has been dispelled.


Myth: Defense spending can’t be cut. Men and women of the Armed Forces will be put in jeopardy.


Truth: Soldiers aren’t in jeopardy because of defense spending decisions.


Soldiers face threats because politicians are the worst kind of military strategists. When we use the U.S. military as nation-builders, we dramatically and artificially escalate the cost of our national defense.


Myth: Oil companies deserve continued taxpayer subsidies, since they assume so much risk in exploration and cost in refinement/production.


Truth: The most profitable private sector endeavor in the world is the oil business. The most profitable companies in this country and elsewhere explore and produce petroleum products. Only an idiot or a crook would argue that these companies deserve ongoing subsidies from taxpayers who already have to absorb a portion of the cost to solve the debt crisis.


These ads are slick. A favorite features a group of seniors staring at the camera saying: “Congressman, what were you thinking?” The concept of the ad is that some goofball congressman has forgotten the poor older people who depend on the government for their care and feeding. Hospital costs, doctor availability and affordable pharmaceuticals are jeopardized because this idiot unnamed congressman is proposing to reduce Medicare subsidies.


It is exactly this kind of thinking (and voting) that has us in the predicament we’re in. We’ve been demanding more while expecting to pay less for decades. Republicans sign pledges committing themselves to vote against any form of tax increase, and Democrats are so beholden to unions and seniors that they view Social Security and Medicare as sacrosanct.


Look what the Democrats did in the recent New York state 16th congressional district race. As soon as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R., WI) offered a budget calling for Social Security and Medicare benefit changes, Democrats flooded the air in New York with attack ads.


Don’t forget that the U.S. Senate, under Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D., NV) control, has not produced a Senate budget in over two years. Senator Reid knows it’s better to attack the other guy’s ideas than it is to risk creating your own plan.


Given that, why would any Republican risk accepting President Barack Obama’s word for making entitlement cuts? Mr. Obama is a master at the Kabuki theater school of politics. Get the GOP to go along with a "balanced" approach, then surprise them in the end by removing the promised entitlement spending cuts.


Sound unbelievable? Not only is it entirely believable, it’s been done before. House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill (D., MA) convinced then-President Ronald Reagan that the Democratic majority in the House and Senate would match spending increases dollar-for-dollar with cuts.


As soon as Mr. Reagan signed the budget into law with the unpopular tax increases, the Democrats started dismantling the promised spending cuts.


Republicans are blaming the Obama Administration for their out-of-control spending habits, conveniently forgetting it was the George W. Bush Administration that placed us on a trajectory to increase the national debt by double-digit trillions.


Even if all of the various factions in this fight could find common ground by slashing defense spending, cutting entitlements, and increasing revenue through the closure of tax loopholes and increasing taxes on the wealthy, the current plan on the table calls for $4 trillion in debt reduction.


Our overall current debt is a stunning $14 trillion, while our Gross Domestic Product pales in comparison. Future budgets essentially continue the upward path of debt dependence. $4 trillion in debt reduction isn't even a drop in the proverbial bucket; it's a microscopic globule in the ocean!


The facts are really very simple. We spend far too much, and the only viable course of action to protect future generations from facing horrible choices will be to pass a budget that:


·        Reduces discretionary spending;

·        Reduces defense spending dramatically;

·        Modifies entitlement programs by extending eligibility ages and adds means testing for benefits;

·        Increases tax revenue by eliminating favorable tax code provisions for the wealthy; and

·        Increases tax revenue by eliminating corporate subsidies.


If a Republican tells you we cannot raise taxes by making the tax code fairer, or a Democrat tells you we cannot reduce entitlement benefits on seniors or the poor, assume both are what they really are.


Assume both are liars, and both are counting on your naiveté or blind party loyalty to not see the difference between the truth and a lie. It’s time to put down the shovel and stop digging; the hole is way too deep already.


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