Monday, February 14, 2011

The Depressing Budget Debate

Both President Obama and congressional Republicans revealed this week that they are not interested in having a real discussion about the federal deficit and what it will take to get it under control.

Everyone knows that health care costs are driving the deficit -- but no word from either party on how to control Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health care programs. Nor have Republicans discussed how they would replace the modest Medicare savings in last year's health care reform legislation if their wish were granted and this law is repealed.

Obama's budget assumes that after 2012 that the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy will disappear, generating revenue to meet his long term deficit targets. But neither he nor his party had the stomach to truly fight for this tax increase last year and it is doubtful they will in two years either. Ways to increase revenue suggested by the Bowles-Simpson Commission like reducing the home mortgage tax deduction were probably not even considered for inclusion in the budget.

Republicans have proposed big cuts in social programs for the poor, urban transit and other spending that benefits primarily Democratic constituencies, demonstrating that they have no inclination to ask their base to make sacrifices for the sake of deficit reduction. And the party that launched two massive nation building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to delude the public into thinking that if only we cut foreign aid, our budget woes would be solved.

Elected officials continue to treat the voters like juvenilles, but then again, recent polls show that we deserve it. Large majorities of voters support the general concept of spending cuts, but actually want increased spending on things like health care, education, crime control and defense (though fewer want spending increases than in past years). What should states that face huge deficits do acccording to the voters? Don't cut spending and don't raise taxes. Of course, this would mean bankruptcy for the majority of states that lack authority to borrow to subsidize a deficit.

We have a deeply uninformed populace and a political culture that punishes those who tell inconvenient truths. These are the true generators of our trillion dollar (plus) annual deficits.

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