National opinion: The Road to Budget SanityAny reasonable person should be able to make a few judicious cuts and additions that are fair to all.Read on to find out Donald Kaul's thoughts on the matter
By: Donald Kaul, Pine Journal
The budget wars have begun. Duck!
President Obama delivered the first salvo by presenting his $3.5 trillion proposal for the 2012 fiscal year to Congress in a telephone book-sized document. It was very Barack--measured and balanced. It cut a little here, put on a little there, added a pinch of taxes and came up with a budget he said would cut more than a trillion dollars from the deficit over the next 10 years.
Republicans in Congress responded with the calm assurance usually associated with Pickett's charge. "More cuts," was their battle cry. Also "no taxes, ever." The party's leaders came under fire for proposing a cut of only $60 billion from what's left of the current fiscal year.
"Not enough" cried their freshmen members, who had ridden to victory last fall on the strength of a promise to cut $100 billion RIGHT NOW.
Their leaders finally got the idea and caught up with their minions. "When we say we're going to cut spending--read my lips--we're going to cut spending," said House Speaker John Boehner, channeling his inner George H.W. Bush. For now, however, the House went with the $60-billion cut, promising more later.
Obama, once again indulging his curious habit of negotiating with himself, admitted his plan didn't go far enough and said he hoped a bipartisan effort could be forged to deal with the long-term budget problems.
The Republicans said they were waiting for the president to lead. He's waiting for them to follow.
This isn't as difficult as they are making it out to be. Any reasonable person should be able to make a few judicious cuts and additions that are fair to all.
Here is my reasonable, three-pronged plan:
Boost Revenue: Cutting services isn't the only way to balance a budget. Raising money counts too, and the low-hanging fruit on this tree is rich people. Raise taxes on the rich. I know, this is akin to flag burning to Republicans. But it's the right thing to do.
Thirty years ago, the top 1 percent of workers earned about 10 percent of the total income of the nation. Today that same 1 percent gets nearly 25 percent of the take, more than the bottom 40 percent does.
Republicans tell us that you can't tax those people because they're the ones who create the jobs. Really? They've got the money, where are the jobs?
Increasing the estate tax is a good idea, too. You don't want to rob rich kids of their incentive to hustle.
Cut Spending: You want to curb waste, fraud, and abuse? The Pentagon is the ancestral home of waste, fraud, and abuse. I know what you're going to say. It's a dangerous world out there. We have to remain strong.
Right. And cutting military spending would make us leaner and meaner. Stronger, not weaker.
One way to cut safely would be to stop going to war every time someone makes a rude gesture in our direction. We pride ourselves on being a peace-loving people. But in the years since World War II we have bombed more than 20 countries, invaded at least a dozen, and conducted several proxy wars.
That's far too many. If we didn't have as big a military, we would wage war within our means.
Spur Growth: This is the most painless way to escape debt: make more money. We have to invest in the future by increasing the money going to research, schools, libraries, and public broadcasting. These would pay for themselves 20 times over down the road by producing a smarter, more productive work force.
PBS is especially important because the rest of television is so hard at work making us dumber. A recent survey found that watching Fox News actually leaves people less informed. PBS does the opposite.
The Republican tax plan is not a budget--it's a suicide pact. Let's do something smart for a change.
OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. www.otherwords.org.