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Obama's and Boehner's Lilliputian budget cuts

House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama are now engaged in a fierce but misleading contest to cut billions from the federal government's relatively small discretionary budget. With this year's budget about to expire under a short-term extension, and next year's budget outline about to enter the Congressional process, both are working feverishly to find the dollars to show they mean business about reducing the deficit.

But neither leader is focusing on the huge amount of spending locked up in inviolable programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and rising interest payments on the federal debt. The prevailing wisdom about leaving the big entitlements alone is still strong. Despite efforts to raise the alarm here and there, the status quo has the upper hand as it always has in such battles for change. The Lilliputians remain in charge. (I'll write more about how to dislodge the prevailing wisdom next week.)

For his part, Boehner now seems determined to cut $100 billion in discretionary spending yet this year. Promising a no-stone-unturned, one-fell-swoop attack, the House package will likely contain a mix of itemized and across-the-board cuts. Just as they did in 1995 when they shut down government to President Bill Clinton's lasting appreciation, Republicans are letting their fingers do the walking down the Yellow Pages in a search for silly program titles and long-despised initiatives. They'll have their salmon stories, too--only these won't be about duplication and overlap, but fast savings.

For his part, Obama is taking a more precise approach that will include specific targets, such as the $5 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Unless the economy recovers faster than anticipated, the cuts will hit the jobless hardest early next winter, arguably the worst moment for the most vulnerable.

To his credit, Obama has the guts, not to mention the statutory responsibility, to put the details on the table and take the heat for doing so. Also to his credit, Obama is focusing in part on wasteful federal contracting and treasured social programs that just don't seem to work. Although the data on what actual works is weak at best (and just plain useless at worst), at least the administration has a rationale for its cutting.

But whether the cuts are applied with a blunt ax or a laser beam, Boehner and Obama have decided to focus exclusively on the federal spending that can be controlled year to year. Neither wants to touch the "third rail" of the subway, in this case the desperately needed overhauls of endangered entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

At first glance, Social Security seems rock solid, largely because its trust fund has roughly $2.5 trillion in reserves. But it turned "cash negative" this year, meaning that it is now paying out more in benefits than it is collecting in taxes. According to Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Social Security will run out of money sometime in the mid 2030s. Twenty-five years may seem like more than enough to guarantee solvency, but it's hardly reassuring for Americans who are already thinking about thirty-five years of retirement.

Medicare is in much more immediate peril. It turned cash negative three years ago, driven toward the edge by rising health costs and the new prescription drug plan enacted in 2003. Again according to Conrad, Medicare will exhaust its trust fund just in time for the 2016 elections. In an odd term, it will become "permanently cash negative," which is just another way of saying bankrupt. Although New York Times columnist David Brooks says that those who refuse to take on these and other entitlements are enablers of big government, I prefer to say that they are enablers of fear.

Given these balance sheets, don't be surprised if Congress and some future president eventually allow Medicare to borrow money from Social Security. After all, they set the precedent back in 1981 when they allowed Social Security to borrow from Medicare to get through a cash flow crisis. Inter-fund borrowing might give Medicare a few extra years, but would merely advance the collapse of Social Security. A dodge by any other name delays just the same.

There is another path, but it would require an authentic call to shared sacrifice. Younger Americans and small businesses would have to pay higher payroll taxes; older Americans would have to accept benefit cuts and bigger "doughnut" holes; organized labor would have to swallow an increase in the retirement age; and wealthier Americans would have to pay taxes on a higher percentage of their benefits.

This kind of reform requires great courage and political risk. Democrats would have to set aside a winning issue in the 2012 campaigns, while Republicans would have to set aside their enmity for the federal government's two most popular entitlements.

Yet, this is precisely what the leaders of the early 1980s did when they embraced Social Security reform. By agreeing to the 1983 package, House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill robbed his party of what might have been its most potent issue in the 1984 campaign, almost guaranteeing Walter Mondale's defeat.

In turn, President Ronald Reagan swallowed hard in accepting a significant payroll tax increase and the enduring anger of the small businesses he wanted to protect. He had the most to lose if the crisis continued, of course, but had to violate his longstanding pledge to reverse the growth of government.

Nevertheless, O'Neill and Reagan came to agreement by putting the nation first. Both knew they would face enormous pressure from their constituents, particularly AARP, labor and the Chamber of Commerce. Both also knew that no one would be happy with their compromise.

But by blending proposals that one or the other would have opposed in isolation, O'Neill and Reagan forged a remarkable partnership that gave young and older Americans confidence that government would honor the promises it made. It was a true clash of the Titans that produced a truce.

At least for now, Boehner and Obama seem content to target discretionary spending alone. Doing so will mark them forever as Lilliputians and leave the nation in complacent comfort that Social Security and Medicare will remain off limits. It is a cowardly decision and should be called out as such.

Related content:
Why form a debt commission? Obama's budget skirts asked-for advice

By Paul Light

 |  February 11, 2011; 11:36 AM ET |  Category:  Bad leadership , Economic crisis , Federal government leadership , Public leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Is Bill Gates wrong about polio? | Next: The best idea in Obama's budget (Hint: It's not a cut)

Comments

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Both parties have bought off their varied constituencies for so long that they don't know how to walk it back and begin speaking out for shared sacrifice.

The problem with sharing the sacrifice is that it guarantees that EVERYONE will be ticked off.

Posted by: magellan1 | February 17, 2011 10:17 AM

You and other dopes posting here like Will45,,seem too ignorant or unaware even tho you concede That SS has a surplus,,you never mention or go into the dipping that federal welfare for aliens etc pulls out,,take SS out of the General fund,and clear your talk show mind a little.

Posted by: schmidt1 | February 17, 2011 10:13 AM

The problem is that Congress and the White House DON'T WANT to cut the budget because they think they will not be re-elected. To heck with what's good for the country. I don't think the deficit is even moderately difficult to solve. Simply cut the defense budget from $730B to $400B and cut everything else by 10%. At tax time, add 10% to your tax bill or subtract 10% if you're due a refund. That goes for you corporations as well, and don't give me this hooey about job killing. These folks are sitting on a TON of $$. This wouldn't zero out the deficit, but it would reduce it substantially. Everyone would contribute and in the long run (maybe not even so long) we would all benefit from a more vibrant, less indebted economy. (Yes, I know, dream on, dream on.....)

Posted by: ihave4ducks | February 16, 2011 5:21 PM

I dont see anyone mentioning tax increases - is it now totally impossible to do the sensible thing and increase taxes?

Posted by: dwjbaker | February 16, 2011 11:30 AM

The proposed cuts are peanuts in the greater scheme of things. Let's see the Tea Partiers go after the big ticket items - Defense, Medicare and Social Security. Vote for real change - right.

Posted by: seaduck2001 | February 15, 2011 6:20 PM

Let's start calling the military budget what it is: a giant entitlement. The military/industrial/political complex feels entitled to possibly 800 hundred bases around the world (many of them secret), to spending more on arms than the entire rest of the world combined, and to consistently acting as if cutting any military spending will send us into oblivion.

Posted by: LevRaphael | February 15, 2011 2:56 PM

One thing I don't hear is that we are only emerging from a near financial collapse - caused by greedy brokers who bent rules for profit and have just as quickly resumed business as usual while much of country teeters on recovery. Business will find ways around rules as fast as they are created - so they have to be regulated.

Not sure if you noticed but my savings account barely pays 1% interest, how are the brokers making multi million $ bonuses.

Social Security and Medicare - excuse me these are the safety nets we have paid into that have been borrowed against - if the principle were still there it might not be underfunded.

1) Most companies no longer provide pension plans - and non-professional jobs rarely give cost of living raises. With the many citizens out of work and federal programs targeted - who's going to hire all those former federal employees (Walmart - Home Depot)?

2) Medicare - with the insurance companies fighting back against the new laws - rates are climbing. Most folks won't be able to afford insurance - how about those that out of work, cobra plans aren't free.

Bottom line is that cuts have to be done precisely or the whole apple cart could tip to a 1929 scenario. This problem didn't arrive overnight and it can't be fixed in 3 years.

The GOP spin about killing federal programs (without mentioning the jobs that won't be filled if the program is gone). Leaving loophole benefits for the wealthy while cutting social programs during a questionable economy might sound like "tough talk". What kind of support will it get if the other 40% of the GOP base is unemployed without safety net? under employed people don't support business very well...

It just makes me support the President more for having the common sense to protect this vulnerable economy while turning the ship.


Posted by: maxicrom1 | February 15, 2011 12:45 PM

Republicans did not seem to think that Ronald Reagan’s $2 trillion addition to the national debt from 1981 through 1988 was very much, or another $1 trillion added to the debt by George H.W. Bush from 1989 through 1992 mattered. Even George W. Bush’s addition to the debt of about $5 trillion from 2001 through 2008 did not get many, if any, Republican complaints.

One can only conclude that for some reason, unknown to science and mathematics, Republican trillions are somehow relatively smaller than Democratic trillions. Any Republican who can explain this phenomenon should get a Nobel Prize.

Posted by: kkrimmer | February 15, 2011 11:21 AM

Dreamers all, aren't they? Sad indeed....
Look for more of the same BS !!!

Posted by: SeniorVet | February 15, 2011 11:01 AM

The Soviet Union collapsed because of bankruptcy from Defense spending and an endless Cold War, not for political reasons-we are going down the same way.

Posted by: lionelroger | February 15, 2011 10:14 AM

Once again-all I hear is the word "cut", I never seem to hear the word "efficient" or the term "cost-effective". Why are the only two alternatives either cut or spend?
In either case you can't be doing your best job because you have neither and efficient nor a cost-effective paradigm.
Every contract,every payroll, every energy-use bill should be scrutinized. All intersecting agencies should be scrutinized for overlaps. But how can you do this when there is a duplication of all functions between the house and Senate- two budget committees, two armed forces committees, etc. Can't they have joint committees for the sake of research and then go back to their own houses to vote? (I know I'm talking crazy here...)But seriously- if any business person tried to run their business the way the government runs our business, not only would they go out of business for bugetary reasons, but they would never satisfy any of their customers. Have you tried to sign up for Medicare on-line? Which is supposed to make the process sooo easy? Want to speak to someone when you have a question? Try to get past the barrage of robo barriers? This is just one instance of ridiculous-ness. I have sent my senators and congressperson letters asking them to work for efficieny and cost-effectiveness- and the answers O get are ridiculous- why? because I really do believe that they haven't a clue about of which I wrote. Try it -it will amuse and disgust you.
Yeahm there are a lot of new people in Congress and the Senate- but so far they have proven to be as useless as the group they replaced- they just wear different lapel pins.

Posted by: poppysue85 | February 15, 2011 10:13 AM

I note the lack of mention of a huge part of our deficit by Mr. Light, namely the Defense Dept.. To exclude this leviathan from the budget fixes is insane, it consumes about a quarter of the budget and that is only what is revealed not any hidden costs. The drumbeat of tax cuts has finally achieved the "starve the beast" proportions needed to call for the destruction of anything that aids the human citizens in this country all the while throwing money at our corporate citizens(really they are citizens according to the law).
If you can afford about a dollar per week more, Social Security would be fine for another 75 years, or are we to cheap to do the right thing.
As far as Medicare goes the problem is the costs by all the various providers of medical care, the only way to change that is to regulate the providers, if we go with the Republican plan of pulling funding for any social programs the cost of medical may actually go down because people will end up not receiving any medical care and probably dying for the lack of it. Sound like the method you might want to use to control medical costs, no death panel, just dead people.

Posted by: KCHam | February 15, 2011 6:58 AM

Why is military spending "off the table" but cutting Social Security is on it?

WHY IS RON PAUL THE ONLY PERSON DISCUSSING CUTTING THE MILITARY?

Where are the liberals? Silent. Following the leader.

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Posted by: zhenge25 | February 15, 2011 2:16 AM

Congress and Obama say we want to do this and that to create jobs. Look at truth as they say half lies. They really mean...Give big business tax $ to hire Chinese to build the products in China and hire illegals to be the installer as Americans wonder WTF and lay idle as congress plays games. American should be on the street demanding many in congress to resign immediately.

Posted by: billisnice | February 14, 2011 11:42 PM

The GOP said the democrats wanted to kill granny with the new health plan. Now the GOP want to cut entitlement which includes SS and Medicare. Both will kill many grannies. Seniors were the ones who changed the faces in DC and now the GOP is attacking them. Two faced.

Obama is beating the GOP at their own game.

Everyone wanted a health care plan that saved $, not pay for the same old system. The GOP wanted to start talks again to make it real affordable. Now the GOP wants to wipe it out.

The GOP put the fear of illegals taking over and now they want to cut the border patrol. Which will increase illegals in the US. Illegal freebies are eating up states budgets. In GA 30 Cents tax on the dollar goes to illegal freebies. Can you imagine in state will tons more.

You can cut all the entitlements you want, but as long as you ship jobs overseas, ignore lower health care cost,and pay for illegal freebies nothing will work, etc.

Many want cuts, cuts, cuts...But if you cut to a point American wil spend less $ and eventually folks with jobs now will lose them.

Posted by: billisnice | February 14, 2011 11:31 PM

Cut the $400 million-a-day that the Regressive Republicans lead the Country into wasting in Iraq and Afghanistan! Give all Americans health care insurance, instead, and still have money left over..........

An Independent

Posted by: aeaustin | February 14, 2011 11:01 PM

Oh how sad, they're to cut energy assistance to low income families. What hard decisions these bold nobles are forced to make.

Yet no mention of WELFARE REFORM, the absolute biggest corrupt scam in American society. No mention of the Social Security Ponzi scheme. No mention of Medicaid Reform. No mention of all the subsidies to non-profitable farms and non-profits alike. No mention of all the nonsensical education assistance programs which reward mediocrity. And once again, not one mention of welfare.

These men do not intend on balancing budgets or aspire to meaningful change, they simply wish to pander to the current populism which will be forgotten by the majority of American idiots within two years time.

No surprises here...more lies, subterfuge and misdirection intended on calming the masses and consolidating votes to one corrupt party or the other.

Posted by: TheFreeMan | February 14, 2011 9:24 PM

I don't see how these guys in Washington are going to fit 50 million unemployed, homeless and impoverished people into that toilet bowl all at once.

As for stopping borrowing, that can be done quickly by ending the welfare for the wealthy. Their taxes have been cut in half since Reagan polluted the White House in '81.

Posted by: BigTrees | February 14, 2011 5:34 PM

What a load of crap this is. Let's have a realistic look at government spending from the ground up, and tons of money can be found from federal agencies that have not performed according to their promises. My leading one is the Department of Education, which has failed miserably to improve student education scores. So kill it. We don't need that. How about merging the Departments of Labor and Commerce together and cut the staffs of both in half? Let's eliminate the do-nothing Institute of Peace, and federal funding of public radio and TV. Both can make it on their own as private businesses. One of my favorite targets is the Securities and Exchange Commission, which did nothing about Bernie Madoff for eight years after being showed he was a fraud. Kill it, and fold its functions into the Commmodity Futures Trading Commission. Oh, yes, and let's do away with Fannie and Freddie, yet another failed federal program.
I am not against federal spending, but I am adamantly opposed to wasteful spending on federal programs that don't work. Eliminate the failed agencies, then talk about entitlements (you acknowledge Social Security and Medicare are currently solvent) or even tax increases.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | February 14, 2011 4:19 PM

Also eliminate the $1,000,000,000 being given to poor countries as we are a poor country. Also not seeing much cutting of spending on the DEMS side of social programs. The Military could have cuts but be careful. DEPT OF EDUCATION - gone. EPA large cuts would be wonderful. As it is so stupid to state that CO2 is a pollutant. Without it we all DIE. Why you ask because the plants would die and were do we get oxygen from?????

Posted by: wildbill925 | February 14, 2011 2:32 PM

Defense could be cut 50% without making a dent in our national security. Anyone who fails to promote such a cut is just playing games. We don't need troops and stations and bases all over the world. Bring every last one of them home. Eliminate every useless weapons program that not even the military wants.

Protecting our national security means protecting our borders. Period. The rest is all about making billions and billions for defense contractors, for puppet regimes we prop up elsewhere, for illegal, immoral and losing wars, for propping up the careers of militaristas.

We spend more on this crap than all other developed nations combined. It is insane.

Posted by: Casey1 | February 14, 2011 2:28 PM

Basically it is the government's job to protect from violence and fraud, other than that not much else.

Posted by: wildbill925 | February 14, 2011 2:28 PM

Defense could be cut 50% without making a dent in our national security. Anyone who fails to promote such a cut is just playing games. We don't need troops and stations and bases all over the world. Bring every last one of them home. Eliminate every useless weapons program that not even the military wants.

Protecting our national security means protecting our borders. Period. The rest is all about making billions and billions for defense contractors, for puppet regimes we prop up elsewhere, for illegal, immoral and losing wars, for propping up the careers of militaristas.

We spend more on this crap than all other developed nations combined. It is insane.

Posted by: Casey1 | February 14, 2011 2:28 PM

Agreed - neither side is serious about actually cutting deficits. Why are Republicans so fixated on cutting Social Security - the only program that is not "broke" and can be secured for the future rather easily? he only solutions Tthat might fix Medicare are now on the chopping block! Remember the reason "Obamacare" was passed - the cost of medical care is growing at an unsustainable rate. The answer is not to kill the fix, but to find solutions to the increased costs. Republicans would rather line the pockets of insurance companies.

Both sides are targeting programs that work, like LIHEAP, which keeps the poor from freezing and NPR, which raises the level of national conversation, as well as being one of the few bows government makes to culture. The cost of these programs is pocket change in the budget, but weapparently want a Dickensonian society, where the poor starve and live on the streets, but we can, nevertheless, blame them for societies' ills. Neither side is willing to ademit that the biggest cuts should be made in the "Defense" budget, which comprises almost half of all spending. Contrary to what some claim, no real cuts are being anticipated. The so-called "cuts" are only in increases in spending - as if I would eecide to balance my personal budget by agreeing to buy a cheaper car next year than I had anticipated. We spend about as much as the rest of the world combined on "defense (46% in 2009);" the next closest is China, whose spending accounts for about 6.6%. As some have noted - why do we have so many bases all over the world, if not to force U.S. hegemony on the rest of the world? Then we wonder why we are reviled! How would we feel if the Chinese or Arab nations had bases here? The reduction of bases and forces, including getting out of interminable wars (shades of Roman hegemony), would eventually also reduce the "backside" of military spending - huge outlays for medical treatment, pensions, etc. Our veterans aren't slackers, trying to beat the system. Epecially those lower on the totem pole have not been treated well - we owe them. On the the hand, it costs over a million dollars per year to train and send one person to Iraq or Afghanistan, not counting medical, pension, etc. costs when they come home, which can be much more over a lifetime. Over the last few years, military funding has increased dramatically - we need to go the other way. M.L. King said once that racism oppresses both the white and black man. So is the case with the policy of American hegemony - we are reaping what we have sown. The cost, among other things, is an increasingly impoverishd nation, education that can't keep up with other countries, inability to invest in the future, rape of our resources, moral morass and torpitude, and a national bill that we do not have the resources to pay.

Posted by: garoth | February 14, 2011 12:31 PM

Frankly, I don't understand the American public, or is it just what the media feeds us basidiomycetes.

The saying is "You get what you pay for" applies to each and every pothole and failed bridge we have to "drive" on. Each and every pension fund recipient that got raped by Wall Street who failed to realize that the SEC/Federal Reserve/bank regulators could have prevented a great deal of the damage. That early childhood education may just lower our criminal justice costs in the future. Etc, etc. The corporate lobbyists have learned this lesson very well; they pay their Senator and Representatives very well and get a fantastic return on investment.

The taboo against "increased taxes" has got to come to a screeching halt. So we need a public discussion of where our priorities are in sufficient detail so we don't get trapped by "No new taxes" when we shoot ourselves in tender places when we do.

There are many, many things government does better, far better than the private sector, so let's have a competent government if we demand it. Yes there are things the government is addicted to, like sticking its nose in our private lives and the lives of others, from starting unjustified wars to interfering in our bedrooms. So, they need to seek a 12 step program for their addiction to corporate funding of their elections to on the other hand for being a nanny state.

Posted by: stanassc | February 14, 2011 11:26 AM

Republican bumper sticker slogans and memes are to serious economics what painting-by-numbers is to art. And the Dems let them get away with it and practice their own forms of empty cliches and memes. For example, "investment" is "code-talk" for "spending"? Duh. The first day of any intro course to economics you learn that in economics, investment is spending on productive capacity and productivity; stocks, bonds, currencies and commodity futures are all considered "saving" not "investment" per se, that may, or may, not be lent out to finance investment spending. Further, there are costs and there are costs: costs that lock in more and higher costs costs; costs that save bigger costs (like lubing a car every 3000 miles); there are costs that are one-shot and not renewable. The issue is which costs are cut and with what future consequences on other costs and essential services. Finally, this is but more of the same: Republicans screaming about the deficits and debt they largely ran up with illegal wars and crony capitalism, are like someone on the city council cutting funding and hiring the unqualified for the fire department, then starting a fire, and complaining about the lateness and inefficiency of the fire department in responding to the fire they started and also about the capacity that the fire department brought to the fire.

Posted by: jcraven | February 14, 2011 10:10 AM

HONORSWAR26, why do we still have military bases in England, Spain, Germany, Italy? Of what use are they to us now?

The 2009 U.S. military budget accounts for approximately 40% of global arms spending and is over six times larger than the military budget of China.

We must drastically cut both entitlements and defense. You can blame the liberals for what they have wrong, fine. Then you immediately fall for the republican line that they're doing anything at all to reduce the deficit.

Until True Believers like you stop accepting that what your party does is useful simply because you can't believe they're wrong, we aren't going to get anywhere, period.

Posted by: eezmamata | February 14, 2011 5:46 AM

It is ironic to hear the liberals saying that the answer to the growing debt is to tell the Republicans no to their demand to cut 100 billion from the budget. Actually, they should be saying that we should be cutting much, much more. But to say that the defense budget is not being cut is very misleading. It is already being cut with multiple billion dollar projects being canceled or severely cut back already. But no one wants to be courageous enough to go after the 400 pound gorilla in the room....entitlements. We have gotten far too comfortable with government doing everything for us and are far too willing to pass off the bill onto our descendents. That is the big lie.

Posted by: honorswar26 | February 14, 2011 5:32 AM

Pretend budget cuts, token reductions, that's all we're going to get from either party.

It's all going to have to crash before it gets better. Go on, blame the 'other' political party for not doing its job, never pay attention to any of the incompetent things your own party is doing. That's what they both want, at least they can agree on that.

Apparently, that's what you want too. Representative government, that's what we have. Our political scumbags in congress are representing the fools who keep voting for them - you.

Posted by: eezmamata | February 14, 2011 5:29 AM

The British want to sell their forests to cut their deficit. Austerity sucks and it is coming to America.

Someone please explain to me why we still have 50 military installations in Germany?

How about the tax haven that billionaires/corporations use to to avoid paying taxes.

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Posted by: nakedempire | February 13, 2011 8:19 PM

First, once you do a little lowest-common- denominator work, a $100B cut to a $14.3T deficit works out to cutting $143 by $1. So, every instead of owing $143, we owe $142, with still no appreciable increase in revenue. Yes, in 143 years, we would be able to eliminate the deficit.

Second, Obama, please, I beg you, when the Republicans want to negotiate with you in order to find a compromise between their obviously political budget and your reasonable budget, just say no. Politely, firmly say no.

The Republicans are using the same tactics they used last month when unemployment benefits needed to be extended. They unleashed a laundry list of anti-progressive demands and made that the starting point for negotiations.

When the starting point is to the extreme right of the political spectrum on one side (Republicants) and just left of center on the other side (Democraps), the "compromise" position ends up pretty solidly right.

Will no one stand up for people over the interests of money? Is there no sense of responsibility to our fellow citizens in a time of need? What kind of Christians are these house legislators, who dwell in the house of financial worship, like thieves in the temple?

Posted by: KobayashiMaru | February 13, 2011 5:14 PM

Politics as usual. Failing to cut the defense budget will cost members of both parties who shy away from this and other choices that make a difference - not discretionary funds. The billions we're spending in defense alone make for a very poor taxpayer investment. Taxpayers should demand better and not take "no" for an answer from their Congress women and men.

Posted by: mirrorgazer | February 13, 2011 2:28 PM


Why no mention at all of defense/military spending?

Why no mention of farm subsidies, and subsidies to oil companies?

Why no mention of "fixing" SS by increasing the income limit for payroll taxes from $106,000?

Unless conservatives are willing to include these things in the discussion, their "solutions" are ideological rather than real attempts to address our financial crisis.

Posted by: kccd | February 13, 2011 2:16 PM

I am glad you have come out and decided to be blunt. Just in the news today is that Obama is contemplating cuts of 1.1 trillion over ten years. This is peanuts when you consider that the deficit over the single year of 2009 was 1.42 trillion.

Lilliputian? Or just plain cowardly?

The mandatory programs must be cut, and after that, tied to actual revenues rather than allowed to grow "by right". The Pentagon also needs to cut and we all need to accept modest tax increases, especially the rich, but not only the rich.

We are spending too little on development and far too much on keeping people alive in expensive misery.

Posted by: rjpal | February 13, 2011 1:53 PM

So let's see, here it is in one long sentence.
The budget was wrecked by two "unfunded wars", one of which had no real "goal" AND a lack of regulation that permitted bankers and big business to recklessly pocket huge fortunes AND a corporate-owned Congress that permitted companies to export jobs and act with impunity which led to a boon for the legal profession.

Posted by: pjohn3 | February 13, 2011 11:37 AM

How about we first solve the problems that got us 14T in debt? As this piece acknowledges, Social Security and Medicare are not responsible for one dime of that debt. They are the creditors, not the debtors. There is no shortage of opportunists trying to use the deficit/debt crisis as an excuse to cut "entitlements", but they are different problems. If those programs never existed, we would still be 14T in debt.

Posted by: chase-truth | February 13, 2011 9:20 AM

What a great compromise Reagan and O'Neill had. Increase the regressive Social Security tax and cut the progressive income tax--with Bill Bradley and New Democrats demanding more cuts in the progressive income tax than Reagan wanted.

Obama is not really a closet Republican. The Republicans passed a $1.3 trillion prescription bill. Obama is a Hyde Park believer in University of Chicago economics.

One comment made the much neglected point: Obama's Social Security tax cut, allegedly for one year but at least in place until after the election. On substance, it was a scandal. $2100 to six figure earners like me (and another $2100 for my wife). Next to nothing for lower-middle income who lost Making Work Pay and a tax increase for retirees who gained nothing on Social Security taxes but lost a stimulus payment.

But politically what is the game? Was it actually to make Social Security look like a bigger critis than it is? It is all very strange.

Posted by: jhough1 | February 12, 2011 9:25 PM

Is anyone tired of Paul Light besides me?

There is absolutely NO reason why DHS, DoD, USDA, etc can't be lumped with discretionary spending.

Cut back on purchases for DoD, cut back on DHS, stop all price supports for sugar, etc., stop subsidies to Corporate farming, raise the royalties on corporate mining and logging on Federal lands, raise taxes on "American" corporations who operate overseas (because they are not employing Americans), increase taxes for polluters, guns, cigarettes, etc.

Cutting funding for child nutrition and education is nuts. Why would we want to have the country run by a bunch of malnourished, under-educated people when we are retired?!

Posted by: Whazzis | February 12, 2011 11:38 AM

Enough with the Team America: World Police shtick! Bring our puppets home.

Posted by: ozpunk | February 12, 2011 10:35 AM


Focusing on the numbers in the military budget is not enough. We must focus on our commitments overseas. For example, why we are still committed to NATO after the breakup of the Soviet Union is a mystery. Our stockpiling of arms at Diego Garcia is overreach. Yes, cut the military budget but do not pretend we can maintain a global military on the cheap.

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 12, 2011 10:02 AM

Cut the DOD by half. Bring back the draft and stop the military retirees milking the system with fraudulent claims. End Afghanistan and Iraq. That's for openers.

Posted by: magnifco1000 | February 11, 2011 11:36 PM

Last year’s debt was bigger than the DoD budget. That means you could zero out DoD and still not have a balanced budget. Then remember that 40% of the DoD budget is entitlement programs to retired personnel, medical coverage, etc, and you can’t even really zero out that part of the budget. (Not to mention that a zero DoD budget adds millions of people to the unemployment rolls.) On top of that, we need to remember we are looking at balancing the budget with these cuts, not paying down the debt. As the Debt Commission said, the only way to start cleaning up this mess is to cut spending, raise taxes and trim entitlements, nothing less is a band-aid that kicks the can down the road.

Do it now, or leave it up to your kids. Simple choice.

Posted by: The_Rat | February 11, 2011 9:18 PM

The comments show the staggering difficulty of doing anything rational about the deficit. Numerous studies show that people actually want the vast range of things government does for them, they simply don't want to pay for them. Non Defense expenditures at all levels of US government are actually very low by OECD standards. Of course tax revenues are even lower.

Posted by: Vince5 | February 11, 2011 8:28 PM

It's be a good time to cut the DHS budget and the DoD budget for spooks. Tie those budgets to the Patriot Act renewal. Anybody else notice the department immediately raised the Terror Alert when the Patriot Act extension was defeated?

Posted by: leshoro | February 11, 2011 8:14 PM

"Once we get taxes on the affluent down to zero our other problems will fix themselves."

Well, half the population pays no federal income tax, yet they feel entitled to be supported by the other half.

Because "wealthy" is now the code word for "envy". Welcome to class warfare. It will not end well.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | February 11, 2011 8:07 PM

Once we get taxes on the affluent down to zero our other problems will fix themselves.

Posted by: markfromark | February 11, 2011 6:16 PM


Only a leftist chucklehead would suggest "eliminate the Navy" and mean it, that is one of the most boneheaded remarks I have ever heard, even from a dazed, confused leftist.

Posted by: screwjob23 | February 11, 2011 5:28 PM

I'll start finding comments more credible when they make clear that at most, minor tuning will take care of social security and the major efforts should be directed at Medicare and Medicaid. Funding and benefits should be kept separate.

Of course credibility will further increase when folks focus on the actual costs of medical services and the dollars siphoned off to insurance companies, labs and for profit hospitals. It used to be(in the 1970s)that a series of 20 or so blood tests that could be performed through automation cost fifty cents and were billed out at much higher rates. I suspect the situation is even worse today.

I'll believe pundits and commentators are serious when they start looking at the root causes of medical care. Looking at the dollar cost of benefits is very indirect look at the real problem.

I have to wonder, is this focus the result of political ideology (including the beleif that whatever cost the seller sets is legitimate), or is it because people lack the analytical skills to perform such analysis?

I get the sense that many of the commentators

Posted by: billsecure | February 11, 2011 5:08 PM

Cutting the EPA or other regulating agency just makes criminal companies richer. The honest companies are going to obey the law whether the EPA comes around to check or not, but the criminal scum of the Earth will not. Thus, the cheaters win a round.
Of course, the correct democratic way to get rid of regulations is win both Houses of Congress, and the White House and then CHANGE the LAWS. Or you could convince the opposition that the regulations were bad, it happens all the time for truly bad regs. Cutting off funding for a regulation established in law is just betraying your oath to defend the Constitution. For someone in Congress that is commonly called TREASON.

Posted by: Muddy_Buddy_2000 | February 11, 2011 4:58 PM

Meanwhile the GOP has just announced it plans to cut 1.6 Billion from the EPA! Nothing like "starving the beast" that is directly responsible for putting those "job killing" restrictions on Big Business, you know, like making them insure they no longer pollute our air, water and land with the chemicals they spew out of their giant factories. Anybody remember Love Canal? Monsanto, GE, Dow as well as the mining industry would love to see the EPA disappear. They love to make money by raping the environment (quote Ann COULTER: God says, "Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.")

Posted by: Watcher1 | February 11, 2011 4:05 PM

You forgot to mention why Social Security is now "cash negative", when it was cash positive just two months ago. President Obama, a closet Republican, decided to cut the Payroll Tax which funds it by 33% along with restoring the expiring Bush tax cuts for the rich, not to mention greatly reducing the estate tax, also only for the very rich. You conveniently forgot to mention this.

Posted by: shapiromarilyn | February 11, 2011 3:11 PM

If there is a huge gap between your personal income and expenses, reducing the amount of money you spend on candy bars each week is probably not the solution. One needs to reduce large (as a percent of your overall income) expenditures. Thus, a 40% reduction in Federal funding for the Public Broadcasting Corp. may make conservative Republicans (probably an oxymoron)feel good. But its not a solution, even if this is done to 10 discretionary programs. If anything it distracts attention from having a real discussion on which large budget programs need to be reduced or their growth constrained! One shot trivial (in absolute dollars saved) budget cuts accomplish nothing. However, a small growth constraint in a program that occupies a substantial part of the budget can make a huge difference.

Posted by: kenarmy | February 11, 2011 3:06 PM

Only place to balance the budget is Defense, the big money. Of course you can trim anywhere, but only BALANCE with Defense cuts.

Simple solution is to eliminate the Navy, who last fought in WWII, and will never fight another war. We are the only country to have a navy. Also eliminate the Navy's Army, sometimes called the Marines, whose only job is to jump off ships and attack. Privatize (OMG I sound like a Republican) shipping instead of having the Navy carry stuff on boats.

Budget balanced. Problem solved. No real pain.

Posted by: chucky-el | February 11, 2011 3:04 PM

Completely agree. While I'm sure some of these discretionary programs can be cut (and the security budgets need trimming also) the US needs to stop borrowing. The ONLY way to do this is to cut the giveaway programs.

For those who harp "but I paid for my social security, medicare, and medicaid" all I can say is bull___. Everyone knows that the programs were underfunded, and has known that for a couple of decades. You didn't put enough in to cover the benefits you want to get out.

Final point - these programs have been described from Day One as a safety net. It is not the job of the federal government to serve as your medical provider or retirement planner. Too many people have decided to make the government their sole provider. Sad.

Posted by: will4567 | February 11, 2011 12:46 PM

Agreed...this is such a small gesture in fixing what is a gigantic mess. Would somebody in the leadership please step up and embrace the deficit commission's recommendations and plan to get this budget back in the "black"?

Posted by: seabiscuit47 | February 11, 2011 12:26 PM

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