My Turn: Another look at cost-cutting and sacrifice
By John P. Burke
Laurels and darts for Ty Cobb Jr., in response to his recent “My Turn” column:
Laurels for Mr. Cobb’s call for sacrifice, NOW! This is one of the few times when an acknowledged conservative has spelled out specifically what he wants to cut. I like his suggestion for a 10 percent pay cut for the president and Congress, but why not include the entire executive and legislative branches? I’d make an exception for the lowest paid, secretaries, typists, etc. but you get the idea. And how about cutting congressional staff by 10 or 15 percent? They could just work harder, like a lot of people do now.
More laurels for taking on the Social Security system and federal pension benefits. Holding level with the current fiscal year 2011 would save around $40 billion. I’m not sure I like another freeze, but why not shift increases to an index which better relates to the cost of living for seniors? Certainly, those Social Security recipients with high incomes from other sources could well afford to join in the sacrifice with an income based cap on payments.
A dart for freezing all federal workers at current levels. Most of these people have little or nothing to say about federal spending. Instead, how about a cap on the upper, decision making levels, say GS-15 and above? Would this freeze affect military pay? I would hope not; they don’t get paid enough now for the sacrifices they make for the rest of us.
Laurels for delaying “earmarks.” Check last Wednesday’s USA Today for the cover story on “Orphan earmarks,” the $7.5 billion in earmarks that can’t be used and are frozen in place. Now, some earmarks are good ideas, think Yadkin River Bridge, but why not put them all in one or more separate bills where they won’t be hidden? At the same time, the “orphans” could be written off or fixed and used, as needed.
Dart on only cutting farm subsidies by 10 percent. The total Budget for Farm Stabilization in Fiscal Year 2012 is $11 billion (we’re in FY 2011, which ends Sept. 30). Why not cut it all out, or at least put a cap based on total farm income, say $100,000 per recipient/farm?
Laurel for cutting non-defense discretionary spending by 10 percent. Unfortunately for the proposed 2012 federal budget, that will only amount to around $49 billion. Not much of a hit on a deficit of $828 billion in FY 2012. Even dropping all foreign aid would only save around $40 billion.
Dart for leaving some big holes that need to be filled. Trying to make sense of the federal budget is no walk in the park, but as nearly as I can figure, Mr. Cobb’s (and my) proposed cuts would only amount to less than $200 billion. Even with the elimination of the Bush tax cuts in 2012, we can’t get back to a balanced budget during the next 10 years with just these changes. To erase the deficit we need several hundred billion a year more. The only remaining place we can get that and attack the national debt is from increased revenues. Sorry, but that’s just arithmetic.
Others have reached the same unhappy conclusion. The Brookings Institution’s Bill Galston published a paper last year, “The Future Is Now,” detailing potential reductions and eliminations in programs, changes in the tax code reducing deductions and other items which could potentially produce $1.1 trillion in savings by 2020. That’s about the same as the projected deficit in 2020. Their proposals would break even at best, but they do provide food for thought. The Fiscal Commission Plan appears to have some tax increases, but barely breaks even on the deficit and leaves the national debt at 40 percent of GNP. Not good enough.
Big Laurel and Dart, for all of us. Mr. Cobb called for leadership and sacrifice, and we’re going to need lots of both to deal with the giant elephant in the room, the size of our debt and continuing deficits. That translates to some increases on the revenue side, that is, increased taxes.
Sorry, but that’s the big dart and we’re going to have to face it. Better now than later, because this elephant is simply going to get bigger as long as we continue to ignore it.
John P. Burke is a retired certified public accountant who lives in Salisbury.
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