The Deficit

It has been interesting to watch the budget debate unfold. I was raised to be fiscally conservative in my personal finances, so it should not come as a surprise that I think our government should be run in a fiscally-conservative manner. Clearly, the present budgetary situation is disturbing to me.

It is disturbing on so many levels. First, the budgetary haggling that almost shut the government down wasn’t over the real budgetary problems. About two-thirds of the Federal budget goes toward Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the military budget. That wasn’t the issue for the Republicans, of course. The haggling was over funding for NPR and Planned Parenthood. It is demagoguery to their base at at time when we need a serious discussion about a serious issue.

The Democrats, including President Obama seemed to be missing in action once again.

There is someone serious about deficit reduction, though. Paul Ryan is serious in his intent. He shows the only admirable characteristic remaining in the GOP – the courage of his convictions – and I have respect for that. At least he has to courage to declare where he stands and let the electorate decide whether that is the America they want. The problem is that his assertions aren’t based on serious analysis. They are based on Ayn Rand-inspired ideology.

Once again, Ryan and the GOP advocates tax cuts that will “pay for themselves” based on pretend math from The Heritage Foundation. When George W. Bush took office, he inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton. Eight years later, Barack Obama inherited a deficit of $641 billion dollars[1] from the Bush Administration. Those tax cuts sure as hell did not pay for themselves. A study of Ryan’s proposal by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finds that a large part of the savings from Ryan’s spending cuts would pay for tax cuts, not reduce the deficit[2], and that the deficit would actually increase. I guess Paul Ryan is just serious-sounding.

But again, where are the Democrats?

I have had a few exchanges with a conservative friend of mine, usually in short Facebook posts. It’s always a good exchange of ideas and we typically don’t find much common ground. There is one thing we agree on, though. There is no serious discussion of deficit reduction without including defense spending as part of the discussion.

Half of the military spending from all countries in the world is spent by the United States. That is unsustainable. I did contract work for the Department of Defense and it was common knowledge that there was still a plethora of cold war projects still being funded. A true political leader would have the courage to admit that and start a serious discussion of where we can reduce military spending in a way that doesn’t hurt national security.

It was late in coming, but President Obama finally said the words that I have been waiting to hear. There are no sacred cows in the budget discussion. He specifically mentioned cutting defense spending – something I never thought I would hear a modern President say. He also said that some programs near and dear to his heart are going to be reduced. I was also glad to hear him say that the Bush tax cuts would be allowed to expire. I found his excuse for not letting them to expire at the end of 2010 to be weak, but he gets a chance to redeem himself this time around.

Take the time to listen to the speech with an open mind. I am not exactly sure of all of his math, and I suspect I would dispute some of it, but certainly the approach is right on target. He framed the discussion as an adult discussion. The commentary was frank and exceptionally close to my thinking on the topic. Let’s just hope there are enough adults in Congress to try and solve what is a serious problem.

It can work if there is a general consensus that we all have to share in the burden.

[1] http://www.cbo.gov/budget/budget.cfm
[2] http://tiny.cc/j2c02

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One Response to “The Deficit”

  1. libtalker Says:

    Sadly, CBS Nightly News gave Ryan’s response about as much airtime as Obama’s speech. In it he is clearly offended that Obama was partisan–or that he made it clear he was ready for fight for the issues he believes in and isn’t willing to do whatever it takes to make nice with the Republicans. I think that by inviting Ryan and others to attend the speech (second row, I heard) Ryan was embarrassed.

    About the speech and the proposals–I agree with what I know. Like you, hearing Obama back in stride and setting some parameters was exactly what I wanted to hear.

    Some people are making a big deal that Ryan started the conversation. So what? It gave Obama something specific to attack and got him fired up, as did the events of last week, I suspect.

    Thanks for the great column. I look forward to many more as things heat up.

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