Friday, July 8, 2011

Wanna fix the deficit? Here's how.

Eugene Robinson is an imminently sensible, clear-thinking fellow.  He writes opinion columns for the Washington Post and sometimes appears on MSNBC as a commentator.  Last year he won a Pulitzer for his opinion columns.  Today, in the Post, his column tackles the seemingly intransigent (if you listen to the politicians) national deficit and with a few keystrokes of his word processor, he puts it all to rights.

As Robinson points out, it is evident to anyone who is paying attention that the federal government cannot continue indefinitely spending at a rate of 25 percent of the gross domestic product while taking in revenue that equals less than 15 percent of GDP.   Even a mediocre mathematician can see that this is unsustainable.  It is clear that, with the great needs that exist in our society from failing infrastructure to inadequate health care and education, it is ridiculous for this government to have one of the lowest tax rates among the industrialized countries of the world.  Robinson says, and I would certainly agree, that we must bring our spending and revenue more into balance, but that it would be unconscionable to do this by putting a "disproportionate share of the burden onto the backs of the poor, the elderly and the battered middle class."

The first step in curing the problem is for all parties to recognize and admit that spending is too high and our revenues are too low.  Both should be around 20 percent of GDP.  Here are Robinson's suggestions for bringing the two into line.

  1. Allow the Bush tax cuts for households making more than $250,000 a year to expire.  (I would go even further and allow all the Bush tax cuts to expire.)
  2. The corporate tax rate is 35 percent but that is a joke because no one pays it.  With all the loopholes available, the richest corporations pay little or no taxes.  CLOSE THOSE LOOPHOLES AND SET A MORE REASONABLE TAX RATE!
  3. Why do we have a cap on the income subject to Social Security payroll contributions?  If there is going to be a cap, it should be much higher, but the best idea would be to eliminate the cap altogether.
  4. Trimming the Pentagon's budget by just 15 percent would save $1 trillion over 10 years.   
  5. When we've done all of that, it is time to tackle another driver of out-of-control federal spending - rising medical costs.  We have some of the highest medical care costs in the world and we have a system that does not produce nearly as good health outcomes as most countries in the industrialized world.  We need to recognize that those countries are doing something right (It's called single-payer.) and try to emulate their success rather than denigrating them and pounding our chests about the wonders of "American exceptionalism."
"There is, indeed, a way to eliminate these strangling deficits with fairness and an eye toward a brighter future," writes Robinson.  "It just happens to be the progressive way." 

And therefore it must never, ever, ever be seriously considered.  The Republican leaders of Congress are determined that any reductions of the deficit shall be made on "the backs of the poor, the elderly and the battered middle class" and the President, who more and more appears to be a closet tea partier, seems to agree with them and to be willing to go along with their Randian schemes. 

There was a time, even within my memory, when politicians of both parties would put the welfare of their country ahead of the opportunity for partisan gain.  No more.  At least not on the Republican side which is now completely ruled by people who couldn't care less if the country prospers as long as their party does.

Meanwhile, grown-up, sane, progressive voices like Robinson's and like Paul Krugman's of The New York Times and Princeton continue to be ignored and our country will continue to suffer for it.

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