Friday, October 12, 2012

We Are Going Broke and It's My Fault (And Yours, Too)

Our nation is drowning in debt, and if the government used standard accounting practicies, entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare would reveal an actual debt of $40 trillion (yes, TRILLION) unfunded commitments. This problem has been brewing for a long time, but we the people have either ignored it or refused to hold our politicians to account. We have no one to blame but ourselves. I truly believe that we get the government we deserve, and that has never been the case more than right now.

The problem is that both parties are controlled by inflexible elements that will not do what has to be done to solve this problem: raise taxes and cut spending while reforming Medicare and Social Security. Last night's vice-presidential debate put into sharp focus what's wrong with our country. First, Mr. Biden sounded like he was in a debate from the 1980s, dusting off the old canard that Republicans hate Social Security and Medicare, and refusing to put on the table any solutions like opening Medicare up to market competition. And last summer when the President and the Speaker were negotiation a "Grand Bargain," the President lost nerve because elements in his party would not accept changes in spending and entitlements.

Meanwhile, the Speaker could not go through with their deal because of people like Romney and Ryan who steadfastly oppose tax increases. In fact, they are promising to cut rates by 20% in addition to maintaing all of the Bush tax cuts, while claiming that this will be revenue neutral due to offsets in tax expenditures (deductions) and "growth." Yet they have refused to explain what deductions they will end, and how the number of deductions can make up for the cuts. They just think that with the wave of a magic wand, "growth" will take care of everything.

Last night Mr. Ryan argued that this has been done before by JFK and Reagan. Here's the problem with his logic. The tax rates were much higher when JFK and Reagan cut taxes. Eisenhower had left in the high tax rates to fund the Korean War and reduce the debt from WW2 (imagine that - a Republican who thinks wars should be paid for!). So there was room to maneuver to reduce those rates once the Korean War was over and the debt had been partiallly paid down. In Reagan's case, the rates were still quite high (70% for the top rate), and worst of all, inflation was raging out of control, pushing workers into higher tax brackets without greater spending power (it was called bracket creep). Even then, after President Reagan cut taxes, he had to raise them again in 1982 and 1986 to offset the deficits. But today the highest rate is 35% and inflation is non-existent. The situations are not the same at all, so to continue to promote the Kennedy and Reagan tax cuts when the scenario is far different is the epitome of ideology over reality.

The real way to grow the economy is to show that we are serious about tackling the issue of debt. And this is a moral issue. It is immoral to pass on trillions in debt to future generations. It is immoral to make promises to seniors that we will have to break. And it is a family values issue as well. If we don't fix this problem now, the sacrifices every family will have to make will only be more painful down the road.

And this is all my fault. I used to be a rabid partisan and ideologue. I used to love talk radio, and read only those sources that I agreed with. No more.

Last night I posted a status update on the debate coverage of Fox News and MSNBC, joking that you would never know the two channels were covering the same debate. My point was that ideology was trumping reality. And doggone it if many of my friends didn't chime in with ardent partisan comments about their guy, proving that what is true in the media is now true among many of us. 

We have dug ourselves into a hole that is getting deeper by the day. And as long as we allow the ideologues in either party to control the debate, nothing will be done to fix it. I URGE you to check out the website of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and also to download and read the report of the co-chair's of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform found here

We can have a good government we deserve, but only if we will muster the political will to stand up to the intransigent forces in each party that refuse to do what must be done to solve this problem.

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