A simple country boy’s solution to the budget “crisis”

Some conservatives see all these fact-laden critiques of our various GOP manufactroversies (see Ryan, Paul) and wonder where are the Democratic plans to solve the financial crisis? (I have been asked this, quite vehemently, myself.)

The informed reply goes something like this:

  1. The crisis isn’t real. It’s been fabricated by the neo-liberal politicians whose goal is to eliminate all taxes on rich people and bust structures like unions that afford the non-hyper-wealthy with some leverage in the American political economy. It. Isn’t. Real.
  2. You’re blaming the wrong people. To the extent that I accept arguments that we do need to cut spending (and I do, by the way – read on), whatever problems we do actually have are the direct result of Republican taxation policies.

So, for the sake of argument let’s say America has a serious financial problem. How would I solve it? Well, I’m no economist, but here are some ideas:

  1. Eliminate Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. That’s well over $300B right there. That would pay 1.4 million teachers for five years, ballpark. You know, since teachers are such an ungodly drain on the economy.
  2. Get out of Iraq. There’s another $100B per year. And then get out of the military adventure business for good. Right now the US spends about as much on its military as the rest of the world combined, and there’s no moral, ethical or economic excuse for it.
  3. Take a chain saw to waste in the military budget. Things like the V-22 Osprey, which has already wasted $22B and will likely cost another $75B to finish. By the way, it’s unclear that the damned thing will actually work, and once you get past the contractors and their pet Congressweasels nobody seems to want it.
  4. Let’s have a good, hard look at the corporate tax code, because ExxonMobil, GE, BoA, Chevron, Boein, Valero, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, ConocoPhillips and Carnival Cruise Lines combined to pay damned near no taxes, despite often-record revenues. In fact, between tax credits, refunds and bailouts, these companies hit us up for trillions of dollars in the past year or two. I’m not accusing any of these companies of breaking the law, and the way the laws work they’re actually required to behave in this way. All I’m saying is, you know, you earn billions and billions in profit, maybe the tax code should be structured so that you pay your fair share in taxes. That’s all.

Once we’ve done these things, then let’s see where we are.

I know, I’m just a simple country boy. And I didn’t major in math by any stretch. But it looks to me like this plan has us up over a trillion dollars in five years (maybe a whole lot sooner, depending on how we parse item #4).

From where I sit, it just doesn’t seem right to go after the little guy first just so we can make sure that Charlie Sheen, Paris Hilton and the Koch brothers can have a tax cut.

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14 thoughts on “A simple country boy’s solution to the budget “crisis””

  1. I remember getting that exact pie chart in an email in 2003…

    I agree with the underlying principle but that chart is pretty misleading

  2. Serious discussions about how to balance the budget must must must include changes to Social Security and (this one is much harder) something must be done about medical costs.

    Also, it’s worth nothing that balancing the budget isn’t going to get the job done, since interest payments on our debt are becoming a larger and larger part of the budget we’re going to have to run a surplus for several decades in order to pay down the principle on the debt.

    Long term financial stability must include:
    1) We have to raise taxes
    2) we have to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan
    3) we have to rein in the R&D budget of the military
    4) we have to raise the retirement age for social security, lower benefits or collect more revenue
    5) we have to be less cavalier about handing out pensions on both the local and federal level
    6) we have to find a way to control healthcare costs or stop offering coverage from the government coffers

    We have to do all these things, we don’t get to pick and choose. If any one of the above ingredients is missing from a budget plan that claims to eliminate our debt, you’re being lied to. Also, substantive discussion on the topic must include controlling spiraling higher education costs (especially the fact that these horseshit fly by night universities like U of Phoenix are handing out third rate degress on the governments dime) and prioritizing infrastructure, especially where it concerns travel (air, train or car — rural development or mass transit for urban areas)

    1. Matt, I agree with you on a good bit of what you say here, you’re also reproducing some fallacies.

      1: Social Security is an off-budget program. It very explicitly doesn’t belong here, by definition.
      2: “Handing out” pensions is GOP/FOXspeak. The money used for pensions isn’t money we’re deciding to spend on people, it’s money that already belongs to those people. Public employees accept compensation packages that are significantly less than what their abilities would earn in a corporate environment in exchange for a certain long-term security structure. The government then has use of that extra money for the years of their career. When they retire, those pensions are them getting back the money they chose to forego. Cutting earned pensions is tantamount to government theft.
      3: We absolutely have to address health care costs. We have the least efficient system of any in the developed world, providing less care for more money than any other industrialized nation. This is so because we’re the only ones with a corporate, for-profit system, and if you recall, a corporation exists for the express purpose of maximizing shareholder return. Legally speaking, an insurance company has to put sucking profit out of customers ahead of providing care.

      No a non-profit public system is how you accomplish this goal of providing better care for less money. I’m sure you’re aware that the most effective and cost-efficient health care delivery system in the US today is Medicare, right?

  3. As a conservative (though I like to think of myself as a reasonable conservative), I agree with a startling amount of what you say. Especially #4. One exception is that the crisis is real, and has been real for 20 years, if not longer. Remember Ross Perot? His deal was the national debt. In that amount of time, you can’t blame either party, both are responsible and both should have been doing something for years.

  4. When I say the crisis isn’t real, I don’t mean that there’s no debt or that debts are okay. What I mean is that this explosion of concern over the “crisis” that erupted almost overnight is manufactured. The debts are real and they result, as I say, from GOP policies on the revenue generation side.

    As a lot of people are pointing out lately, we don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem. Of course, I clearly think that we do have a spending problem where military adventurism is concerned, but I see no reason at all why we need to cut taxes for Charlie Sheen so we can go after teachers.

    Hope that clarifies.

  5. In your point #3 you mean the V-22 Osprey. The F-22 “Raptor” is another multi-billion dollar boondoggle of a project that has been replaced with something newer for the USAF to play with.

  6. 1) Sam, I don’t follow GOP talking points very closely so irrespective of whether or not its a phrase used by Republicans, the fact remains.

    Pensions are basically an inducement to take less money today because you will be paid for the rest of your life even when you retire. Since on a long enough timelime, pensions are near impossible to predict in terms of cost we have to be more careful about whom we give them to or under what auspice. There’s a reason that most private companies don’t give them out as frequently, its a longterm solution to a generally short-term problem. I’m not saying they’re a bad thing, I’m saying that you have to collect a lot of taxes to offset them

    2) Additionally, social security is not cash neutral anymore. You can say that if we hadn’t raided social security in the past, we’d have the surplus money to weather the baby boom and you’d be right but we did. Moving forward, Social Secuirty is a net negative and we need to lower benefits or raise revenue for it not to go bankrupt.

    3) Again Sam, you’re sort of putting words on my mouth. I never said retracting government healthcare was THE solution, but its certainly A solution. What we absolutely cannot do is continue on the current road. We either need to cut Medicare/Medicaid substantially or make it universal and raise taxes but this middle ground, as you pointed out, is very ineffecient

    1. On pensions: you seem to have granted my argument. We agree on what the bargain is, we agree that people have taken less, which is another way of saying that they have loaned the government their money to use as it will for years and decades. If you’d like to argue that we shouldn’t do so in the future, go ahead. But for the people who are already in the system – and that’s who we’re talking about, quite explicitly – killing their pensions is beyond bait-and-switch. It’s stealing.

      On Social Security – I need a source. I know there’s a lot of posturing on this, but SS is OFF-BUDGET. It is not a line-item in the budget.

      On health care, yeah, cutting Medicare is A solution. As is killing all the old people. I agree 100% that the current road is a problem. The solution is single payer, or at the least a public option. Think expansion of the most efficient system we have in America, Medicare. And kill the least efficient system in the industrialized world, corporate for-profit. So yeah, universal.

  7. That’s true on pensions, we can’t take them away from those who have earned them or have been promised them, but we have probably been a little too lax in giving them out in the past and we should probably just increase wages and incur the brunt now.

    Social IS off-budget, but it has been raided multiple times by other programs and not paid back. As such, the monies being collected now are more or less being paid out right away. Since there are more and more people collecting and the number of people paying in either remaining steady or decreasing, social security will go bankrupt without a change in a couple decades. it IS off budget that’s why people always talk about social security, specifically, going bankrupt. You never hear about the pentagon going bankrupt because that would mean the whole government would be too. We have to either substantially increase the social security tax, pay back the money owed from other programs (which will simply mean some other taxes have to raised), raise the retirement age or cut back on the benefits being paid out. I think the raising of the retirement age is probably the easiest and most reasonable, but that still won’t be enough if we keep raiding the social security coffers. It should have a huge surplus right now and it’s been hugely diminished.

    Finally, while I too, would prefer a single payer system, I get really pissed when people discount my solutions so I’d not like to ignore the route of dialing back medicare and medicaid. It IS an option and a viable one. Do I think it’s the right thing? No, not at all, I believe it’s an abdication of society’s responsible to the sick and elderly. However, we should be careful not to treat people proposing this idea as if it were idiotic or evil.

    1. On pensions: fine. Now, what conclusions can we draw about those who WOULD take away those pensions?

      On SS: there are plenty of really crisp analyses that say no, it ain’t going bankrupt. There is reason to suspect the objectivity of those who say it is, since they tend to occur in close proximity to the Koch brothers and Gov. Walkers of the world.

      And wait – so since you don’t want to be discounted for being right about Medicare, you’ll acknowledge that it’s a viable option? Matt, don’t ever dumb yourself down to earn credibility in the eyes of idiots. You’re way too bright for that.

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