Watching Meet the Press this morning I felt vaguely ill as the mendacious Dick Durbin (D-IL) and the reprehensible Lindsay Graham (R-SC) discussed the budget. Durbin was in the ridiculous position of arguing that the Democrat effort to cut the President’s budget proposal by $41 billion was a meaningful cut and Graham was in the equally ridiculous position of arguing that the $100 billion cut proposed by Republicans was more than vaguely meaningful.
In reality, the president’s proposed budget is $638 billion higher than the 2008 budget and has a deficit of over $1.1 trillion. It only looks smaller in comparison to his last budget which spent an unbelievable $3.3 trillion in a single year. The truth is that neither the Democrat cuts defended by Durbin nor the Republican cuts defended by Graham are a fraction of the amount needed to produce a responsible budget. $100 billion is less than a 3% cut in the proposed budget and $41 billion is less than a 1.5% cut. Republicans promised to cut to 2008 spending levels, yet their proposal is less than 1/6 of that amount.
The hard truth is that we are not going to make real progress on having a responsible budget unless we look at some of the sacred cows which legislators have so far refused to touch. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has a promising bill which would cut $500 billion, but even that is still inadequate. It suggests excellent cuts and the elimination of some departments, but doesn’t go far enough.
For example, one of the sacred cows we need to go after is military spending. Paul suggests $84 billion in cuts. That’s based on continuing the current wars and deployments at close to the same level. I’d suggest going much farther. Get the troops our of Afghanistan and Iraq. These are wars which no longer have a purpose and cannot possibly pay off in proportion to the cost. There’s nothing to be gained there. Cut the military budget back to year 2000 levels, adjusted for inflation. That would be a cut of about $330 billion. It would allow the military to continue to operate and maintain all of its existing obligations but it would cut out the specific costs associated with current deployments and some new projects.
Next cut. Federal spending on unemployment has almost tripled in the last decade. It is utterly unjustifiable. Extending benefits to 2 years or more cannot be supported in the long term. Cutting it back to year 2000 levels adjusted for inflation would cut another $400 billion from the budget. It’s an entitlement which we can afford to go after and absolutely must. The extension of unemployment is irrational and undermines the business employment environment. People need to be pressured to go back to work at lower salaries if necessary and do their part in bringing wages down to strengthen the economy.
Another obvious cut is Social Security. We have to push back the retirement age. It should be immediately pushed back to 70 from the current level of 67 and pushed back 1 year every 3 years until it reaches 75. The system was originally designed for a population which had an average life expectancy of around 62. People weren’t expected to live to collect Social Security for more than a couple of years. They are living more than 20 years longer today and the retirement age must be adjusted to address that. The immediate yearly savings would be only about $150 billion, but the long term effect would be much more substantial.
So there, starting with Rand Paul’s modest $500 billion in cuts and adding just three more cuts, two in areas which he doesn’t even touch, we could cut the budget by a total of $1.3 Trillion, and we haven’t even gone after Medicaid yet. That would eliminate the deficit and potentially leave us with a small surplus to apply to the debt. It would only take us back to a year 2005 level of spending overall, but that leaves us with a target for 2013 of cutting $600 billion to get us back to a year 2000 level adjusted for inflation.
The independent Debt Commission has declared both the House Republican plan and the President’s budget contain far too few cuts, saying that “neither plan goes at all far enough to deal with our medium- or long-term fiscal challenges.” You have to wonder why we have this commission of experienced elder statesman if neither party is going to listen to them.
As Rand Paul has demonstrated this is not rocket science. It just requires the guts and perhaps the ruthlessness to do what needs to be done. He’s given us a starting point. Let’s take out the red pen and start cutting in a serious way.