Monday, January 28, 2013

'Which Entitlement Program Do We Cut, King Solomon?'

'How do we cut the baby, King Solomon?'
Now that we have settled the 'rich paying their fair share' issue, it is time to turn attention to the real problem in the federal budget, spending.

You don't think the tax debate is over? President Obama has gotten the last tax hike he will ever see, or any other Democrat, for the rest of his term and their lifetime.

Why?

Because he has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that every time a Republican in Congress or the White House gives an inch on higher taxes on anyone, Democrats will not reciprocate with even a centimeter of spending cuts.

Just take a look at the fiscal cliff deal. 98% of Americans get to keep the tax cuts George W. Bush 43 and the GOP Congress gave them in 2002/03. They are now permanent thanks to President Obama and a GOP House.

But the GOP got nothing in return for biting the bullet on making poor old Warren Buffett get what he said he wanted: 'Higher Taxes on the Rich!'. No spending cuts. No entitlement reforms. No raising of the retirement age for SS and Medicare.

In fact, all the GOP and the country got was more of the same: More spending and more debt.

There is not a Republican or conservative in Washington today who will EVER vote for another tax hike as part of any deal with this President and this Democratic Senate. They just never give the Republicans what they really want: political cover to vote for Medicare and Social Security reforms which everyone with half a brain knows are the largest part of the entitlement bomb that is driving up cost in the federal budget and the deficit and the national debt.

So, now that President Obama will be the longest sitting lame duck in history if he insists on raising taxes further on anyone, what can be done?

For one thing, the GOP House can start showing the American people what is really at stake with no budgetary constraint or setting of priorities:
'Discretionary programs will be steadily eroded until and unless entitlement programs are reformed and curtailed in growth rates and expansion.'
It will be like King Solomon forcing the women with the dispute over who was the 'real mother' to 'make a decision' and make it the right one. (1 Kings 3:16-28)

We think Speaker Boehner should open up Congress as the Committee of the Whole every weekday after they have done some other important business like naming October 26 'National Mule Day' (our very favorite worthless act of Congress ever in history). He and the Republican leadership should let each and every representative on a bi-partisan basis offer spending amendments to reduce discretionary programs up to the same amount that all the entitlement programs are expected to grow this year.  Unless, of course, Congress decides to do the right thing and reform and cut entitlement programs in the first place.

Once the entitlement growth dragon is slain, (if ever) primarily in Medicare and Medicaid, then everyone can go back to protecting their own part of the discretionary pie just as they have always done under regular order and the 'normal' committee process (where they will never be cut again since no one wants to cut someone else's favorite program for fear that they will want to cut theirs)

The debate would look and sound something like this:
'The gentlelady from North Carolina is recognized.
'I rise to offer an amendment to reduce the funding for research on blind albino squirrels at the University of Idaho by $250,000, which is precisely the amount of money being spent on Medicare in the next 23 seconds as we speak on this hallowed floor.
If we are not going to fix what ails us in entitlement spending, then we have to find those savings by making such tough decisions as not funding research on these poor blind albino squirrels. Tough times demand tough decisions and I am ready to make them.  
How about you?'
Who in their right mind is going to vote against that amendment with the glare of C-SPAN cameras capturing their every move? It might not be as riveting as the debate leading up to the passage of the 13th Amendment that freed the slaves (you really should see 'Lincoln' before it goes to Netflix) but, cumulatively, making these spending priority decisions will be very important to the future health and welfare of our nation and our children.

One of our more grizzled veteran and denizen of the Washington deep friends responded when we approached him about this idea with the following (you know who you are):
'They could talk about selling off specific national parks (regretting it all the way, of course), but talking about what kind of revenue could be generated if we allowed Hilton to build a hotel overlooking Old Faithful or developers to build retirement homes along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  
Since Obama won't let the nation use Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste, why not fill it with compacted garbage from New York or LA? They would pay a fortune to drive it to Nevada, I am sure. Hell, I bet with some thought we could create a lot of revenue-producing opportunities.'
Indeed. If President Obama and the Democrats won't agree to any reasonable spending cuts or reforms in entitlements, and since the GOP has already caved in and let the White House win on the 'tax fairness' issue by making rich people pay more each year, then the only other way to get to a balanced budget other than slicing and dicing discretionary programs with a Veg-o-Matic is to sell off assets or get recurring cash-flows from naming national monuments like BCS Championship Bowl Games:

'Climb to the Top of the Chick-Fil-A Washington Monument!'
'Skateboard Around the Priceline.com Jefferson Memorial!'
'Swim Laps in the Reflecting Pool in Front of the Lincoln Memorial--
Sponsored by The New Lincoln--Drive A MKX Today!'

There is a serious proposal in here somewhere, we promise.  We think the time has come to drop the charade that raising taxes will ever balance this budget, not in the shape it is in today.  The Fiscal Cliff tax hikes will cover perhaps, maybe 6% of the budget shortfall over the next 10 years. If our annual budget deficits had been at the $100 billion or $60 billion, well, then perhaps the tax hikes would have done the trick.

But they weren't and haven't been for the past 4 years, now going on 5. Massive restructuring and reform of Medicaid, Medicare and SS are necessary unless we want to keep adding on debt until it becomes unmanageable, especially when (not if) our interest rates return to a normal level of 5% or more.

It is either reform entitlements or chop the heck out of every discretionary program you probably like and support for the good it does in our society in your opinion.

If you don't believe us, you need to read this book by our Progressive Liberal Friend (yes, we have 'em) Professor Donald Taylor of Duke University, 'Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority'.

When you see people from the other side of the political spectrum saying let's balance the budget, you know it is getting serious.

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