Don't let Congress fool you with deficit 'reduction' bill
Tue Jan 3, 7:54 AM ET
A new year brings new hope. And in this year it would be nice to see in Washington a new commitment to fiscal
restraint and a resolve to bequeath a solvent government and robust economy to future generations. (Related:
To listen to many Republican lawmakers, a move in that direction is underway. In the final hours before it wrapped
up on Dec. 21, the Senate approved a five-year, $40 billion deficit reduction package. The measure, set to pass
the House of Representatives early this year, would cut Medicaid and farm subsidies, among other programs, and
is being billed as a down payment toward future restraint.
It would be nice to see it that way, but to believe that is to believe in fairy tales. This political sleight of hand is
simply too small to matter and is designed to evade the real financial predicament - runaway health care costs,
unsustainable retirement benefits and tax rates receipts well below historical averages.
The cowardice in that is bad enough, but the measure is also cruel. Virtually all of Congress' cuts are made to
programs for the poor and the young, who lack organized lobbies. Absent congressional conscience, they are
simply targets of political opportunity. And be assured conscience is lacking. Even as Congress made those cuts, it
has taken up more than twice as much in tax cuts that would primarily benefit high-income people.
Among many other shortcomings:
Its triviality in size. $40 billion over five years might seem like a lot, but it pales compared with the $1.1 trillion in
cumulative deficits for the same period that the White House projected last summer. It's perhaps 20% of the
money Washington will spend to rebuild the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast.
Its dubious assumptions. Much of this measure's deficit reduction would come not from spending cuts but from
accounting gimmicks. About $10 billion would come from auctioning the frequencies used for analog television
broadcasts slated to end in 2009. Congress has tried this, but the broadcaster lobby has repeatedly put off auction
dates. Bottom line: Don't count on this money until the checks are cashed.
Its misplaced priorities. While it's hard to criticize any spending cuts in a time of such government bloat, this
measure goes after the wrong culprits. It cracks down on the scourge of people going to college by taking its
largest single cut ($12.7 billion) from student loans. It punishes single moms by cutting programs to find "deadbeat
dads." In as much as aspiring students and single mothers tend to be young, they already face a bleak future of
crushing debt brought on by Congress' unwillingness to address the looming crises in Social Security and
Medicare. They don't deserve more pain.
The best that might be said for this measure is that little steps are better than none at all. That, however, is a highly
questionable proposition. This measure would provide some measure of wholly unwarranted political cover for
members of Congress. They will return home to their constituents and say they took action to reduce the deficit.
This is utter nonsense. Congress will not deserve credit until it takes on health costs, tells seniors it can't sustain a
Social Security system in which one of every three adults collects benefits, and raises taxes for the wealthy back to
more reasonable levels.
Until then, each year will bring the nation and the federal government only closer to fiscal crisis.
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