Monday, March 14, 2011

Uneducated on the Budget

It is difficult to focus on our domestic political mess while there is so much suffering taking place in Japan and, what appears to be, an impending environmental disaster with multiple nuclear plants disabled and in jeopardy of a meltdown.

But with the latest short term funding bill set to expire in four days, virtually no common ground being identified on fiscal issues between the parties, and the statutory debt limit to be reached at some point this spring -- we need to think about helping Japan and getting our own house in order at the same time.

The depth of our difficulties was reflected by two Senate votes last week where the both the Republican and Democratic funding plans for this fiscal year (5 months of which are already over) failed to achieve a majority, let alone the supermajority necessary to achieve passage. Politicians have inserted an assortment of hotbutton social issues into the budget battle, increasing the polarization and making agreement even harder to achieve.

And this debate is about only 12 percent of the budget that funds everything from defense to student loans. The $61 billion in cuts congressional Republicans seek would cut the projected 2011 deficit by about 4%. The politics of even discussing the types of tax increases and spending cuts necessary to put a dent in our $1.6 trillion deficit are so explosive that President Obama is pretty much sitting on the sidelines, waiting for others to put a plan on the table and have it skewered by a hostile public.

Our politicians have been failing to level with the public about the true nature of this problem for decades. (I refuse to call this a crisis - if you want to see a crisis, take a look at what is happening in Japan). Ideally, our representatives would lead and the public would follow. But in our feckless modern politics, our leaders don't lead, but rather respond to what they hear from the public.

And what they are hearing from the public is loud and clear. New polling confirms that the red hot debate about domestic spending has changed nothing. The public wants lower taxes, sustained or even higher spending, and reduced deficits. Reducing Medicare, the key driver of future deficits, is opposed by 76 percent of the public. Many believe the deficit could be significantly reduced by chopping foreign aid, which accounts for less than 1 percent of the budget.

Bottom line: You can't deal with big problems when the public perception of them has virtually no relation to reality.

No comments:

Post a Comment