**With another government shutdown looming I am re-running a column from last fall regarding fiscal responsibility.
It is unfair to continually point out the flaws in another person’s solution to a problem without proposing a solution of your own. Doing so is not helping and only criticizing those who are trying to help.
I am occasionally guilty of this kind of behavior. I consistently explain what I think is wrong with conservatives and their ideas while forwarding my own position less frequently So here goes…
One of the most critical problems this country faces is that of the budget deficit. The bottom line is that the country generally spends more than it takes in. This is not really a new thing, and most of the time it is not a very serious transgression. Because the United States as a country has great credit the country being in debt is like an individual opening up a plastic surgery practice. She may have medical school debt and a mortgage, but the likelihood of her paying those bills is very high. In recent years however, when the country’s credit was downgraded and the debt of the country became more important.
Easy math – when you take in more money than you spend, you are solvent; when you spend more than you take in, you are in debt. A quick internet search tells me that for the 2012 fiscal year the country took in $2.9 trillion while spending $3.7 trillion. These quantities may differ depending on who is reporting the figures but everyone can agree that the country is in debt.
This is where liberals and conservatives paths diverge. Conservatives mostly advocate cutting federal spending to programs they deem non-essential and changing the way essential programs are funded. This is how we get conservatives arguing that social security funds should be invested in the private market so that as the economy continues to grow social security would also grow. It is also how we get conservatives planning to decrease funding to education. Liberals would like to maintain the funding of these programs so they argue for increasing taxes.
One of the good things about President Obama’s plan is that it embraces a combination of increasing taxes and cutting spending. I have written in the past about tax breaks for corporations and the heads of corporations and why those aren’t good ideas – See my column on the contradiction of supply side economics from November of 2010. Cutting spending inevitably comes down to making hard choices. I would trim budgets across the board to limit the degree to which I am making a tough choice. But it should be understood that cutting from the federal education budget is not going to have much of an impact. The change comes in altering the big programs.
Looking at the 2012 federal budget a few areas instantly jump out. Medicare & Medicaid account for approximately 30% of the budget; military spending accounts for 23%; Social Security makes up 21% of the national budget. These three areas must be addressed. I would like to see each of these budgets cut in a way that is more than the cuts to the other federal programs, the Department of Energy for instance.
The truth of the matter is that the baby boom generation continues to reach retirement age. When social security was created in the 1930s it was designed to handle a certain amount of people for a number of years. The baby boom generation, as their nickname implies, is larger than those generations before them and is sending more people looking for social security than the program can handle long term. In addition, because of a longer life expectancy the social security program is being asked to handle this larger group of people for a longer time.
Because of the changes in American population that were spurred by the baby boom, Medicare and Medicaid are experiencing the same over-stressed situation.
Here is my liberal bias: it’s possible to decrease the funding for defense more than for social security and Medicare & Medicaid because of two factors. Social security, Medicare, and Medicaid all serve actual people that have retired or are on the verge of retirement; our military budget goes to address specific and hypothetical threats. Secondly the military budget, because of various alliances, goes to functioning on behalf of non-Americans; social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, all function on behalf of American citizens.
Because of this, in my view defense spending is too high. Conservatives often advocate for cutting domestic programs because “there isn’t enough money to pay for everyone to have a program” – in other words the line has to be drawn somewhere. I agree. And I draw the line at the borders of the United States.
Of course foreign policy and national defense is very complicated. So it might be argued that lessening our defense spending will make the United States vulnerable to attack, alienate us from our allies, and is generally a sign of weakness. I disagree. The country is already a target for terrorists and slightly decreasing defense spending will not inspire any more attacks on the United States. We are not going to be any more a target because we have 5 nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean instead of 6. Because the overall strength of the country is not suffering, our allies will remain. And it could easily be seen as a sign of strength and self-assuredness that we decrease defense spending instead of maintaining or increasing it.
To recap my road to financial solvency for the country involves increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans. In reality this involves allowing tax cuts to expire instead of extending them. It also involves cutting the budget of every federal program but cutting social security, Medicare and Medicaid more than the others, and cutting defense spending the most.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.