What’s Left: Tough Cuts

 

 

Noah Merksamer

Sadly, Washington, D.C. has provided us with an extremely limited debate over the current budget. Democrats seem to accept the Republican theory that domestic discretionary spending and foreign aid are the main culprits of our out-of-control deficit, which gives us only two terrible choices. We can either radically cut domestic spending but seriously damage our infrastructure, or we can make moderate cuts and suffer higher deficits. However, other choices do exist that neither party wants to explore.

The fact is, the programs that Washington is currently considering to cut in order to shrink the $1.3 trillion deficit only total $431 billion and make up only 12 percent of the entire budget. Somehow, Congress wants us to believe that aiming cuts at this narrow billion dollar portion of the 2011 $3.8 trillion budget will somehow help balance our $1.3 trillion deficit. A billion dollars is less than a trillion dollars; everyone knows that. In other words, simple arithmetic makes these debates over domestic discretionary spending cuts completely insignificant to any goal of reaching a balanced budget and a smaller deficit and, essentially, a waste of time. Instead, lawmakers should focus their deficit cutting vigor toward programs that make up 88 percent of the budget deficit, mainly taxation, defense spending and entitlement programs. These institutions are costly, unstable and inefficient. Congress needs to bring these issues up for discussion if they are truly serious about balancing our budget.

The newfound Republican obsession with the deficit has controlled our national discourse. They argue that the chief concern to America’s future is the national debt, but when given opportunities to address the problem, Republicans consistently fail to take action. When an opportunity came to cut the deficit 30 percent by slightly reforming the tax code, Republicans obstructed. They fought against allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest Americans, eliminating tax loopholes for offshore corporations and creating a new millionaire tax bracket. These tax policies, strongly defended by Republicans who ran on balancing the budget will, by all accounts, cause the deficit to skyrocket. Military spending is the next big government institution where lawmakers should look to make spending cuts. The United States defense budget, not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is five times the size of China’s, the second largest in the world. Dramatically reducing the number of troops in Iraq and Af­ghanistan, cancelling expensive and unnecessary weapons programs and reducing the number of troops in Asia and Africa are all common sense policies that would save the American people up to $400 billion over the next 20 years.

Entitlement programs are a messy political issue, but our lawmakers need to address them if they are truly serious about balancing our budget. Increasing efficiency, implementing a more flex­ible compensation system and slightly raising the eligibility age for Medicare and the retirement age for Social Security would save the country hundreds of billions of dollars. Entitlement programs have grown to become inefficient and costly, and according to some economists will become insol­vent in the near future, so if these problems cannot be addressed now, expect a much more serious crisis down the line.

It is irresponsible for lawmakers to be focused on scoring political points by championing nar­row domestic spending cuts while allowing inefficient government bureaucracies to grow exponen­tially. Instead of debating ‘small government’ versus ‘big government’, why not debate the values of ‘smart government’? What lawmakers should be doing is putting all of our government programs on the table. They should investigate the role of government in these areas, and improve or cut programs that are unstable and inefficient. Rather than serve their own private good as politi­cians, lawmakers should serve the common public good as citizens. Reforming tax policies, defense spending and entitlement programs are the most efficient ways to balance America’s budget and restore our standing in the world. Unfortunately, I will guarantee you that Congress will continue to adapt politically expedient policies instead of demonstrating true leadership, and will accomplish absolutely nothing in the process.