Deficit Committee Guys Make Sense
It figures. The most rational trial balloon to float over Washington in decades is taking flak from all sides.
When Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of the Presidential Deficit Committee, revealed their dream scenario for managing the budget - not to be confused with any final recommendations likely to come from the committee - both liberals and conservatives leapt to the attack.
"We can't change Social Security, we can't reduce the federal payroll," scream the liberals.
"We can't raise taxes, we can't reduce defense spending," holler the conservatives.
This can only mean that the committee chairmen have gotten it mostly right.
Here are some of the hard facts: Social Security, if it is to exist at all, must means test its beneficiaries and raise the retirement age. It should also establish payments, and taxes, at a level that will encourage future generations to save. They will have to be taught to do so, and if that requires withholding into privately owned savings accounts with government-approved investment options, so be it.
Our military is spread all over the world, including such hot spots as Germany and Japan. We won that war 65 years ago. We are pouring billions into creating nations by attempting to domesticate tribes that have been warring for millennia. The Pentagon is handed long-delayed, over--budget weapons systems it doesn't want by congresspersons intent on spreading wealth in their districts. The military has become a sacred subculture in our society.
We have to pay for our past, even as we reform our future. Some of that payment has to come from taxes; on the rich, yes, because that is where the money is, but also from the poorest of us, however nominal, because everyone should have skin in the game.
What doesn't come from taxes will come from inflation and a lower standard of living. The chairmen proposed a three-year freeze on federal wages and a cap on spending at 21 percent on GNP. Those are arbitrary numbers, but why not? You have to start somewhere.
They also proposed ending earmarks. We can hope.
They said remarkably little about health care. That's because there isn't much to say. It will never cost less. Research, drugs, new procedures and fancy gadgets are expensive. All we can hope to do is reduce paperwork, coordinate recordkeeping, control liability.
If we underpay doctors, who is going to go through the arduous training process? If we want access for everybody, it is going to be costly. Demographics are against us. Obamacare may not be the answer, but nothing is going to reverse the trend.
Bowles and Simpson should be paraded around Washington on the shoulders of the congresspersons for whom they are providing political cover. If Congress cannot support and pass these sorts of massive changes in the way we do business now, when the commission is the brainchild of the current president, the House is freshly stocked with fiscal conservatives, and Democrats in the Senate ought to be chastened and fearful for their futures, then when will it ever do so?
The committee's final recommendations are not due for a couple of weeks, and unless 14 of its 18 members agree on the whole package, it will not even receive a vote in Congress. Meanwhile, the states have smaller versions of the same problems, without the ability to deficit-spend.
The public is way ahead of legislators on fiscal issues. Citizens have realized that the shell game is over; that if there is to be a hopeful future for their children and grandchildren, they must bite the bullet and atone for past profligacies, and they must do it now.
That is what the election was about. We will soon see who gets it and who does not. Reaction to the Deficit Commission report will be a litmus test.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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