EDITORIAL: Deficit Medicine

The federal budget deficit and the corresponding growth in the national debt have reached unacceptable levels. Virtually everyone in Washington – and around the country – agrees on that.
What most politicians have wanted Americans to believe, however, is that the solution will be painless, that if it costs anybody anything, it won’t be me.
Now that campaign season is over, maybe that myth will be properly laid to rest.
The hard truth is, no meaningful deficit reduction will occur without significant cuts in popular programs along with some new revenue generation – whether through outright tax increases or elimination of tax breaks. Political leaders in Washington of both parties have had such a hard time in confronting that hard truth that it has taken the leaders of a bipartisan commission to lay out the beginnings of a plan that deals honestly with the issue.
Their initial proposals drew howls of protest from both liberals and conservatives – though the noise from liberals was a bit louder – which is sure proof that they represented a serious consideration of what it will really take to get the nation’s fiscal house in order.
Democrat Erskine Bowles, former Clinton administration official, and retired Republican Sen. Alan Simpson are co-chairs of the 18-member commission convened by President Obama and filled out by leaders of both parties. It’s charged with recommending changes that would get the deficit from 8 percent of gross domestic product down to 3 percent by 2015. Bowles and Simpson jump-started the panel’s discussion with their own plan that would reduce the figure to 2.2 percent.
There’s something in it to make everybody mad: Gradually raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 while trimming benefits; cutting deeply into other domestic programs; eliminating tax breaks, including the mortgage interest deduction, while lowering corporate and individual income tax rates; cutting $100 billion in defense spending.
They considered nothing sacred, and that’s a good way to start. It will take 14 of the 18 commission members to agree on a proposal for it to be forwarded to Congress, so it’s unlikely the Bowles/Simpson ideas will all move forward. But they’ve opened the discussion is a meaningful way.
Republican leaders were cautious in their responses, though continuing to express their preference for the painlessness of no new tax hikes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the proposals are “simply unacceptable,” while the president said he wanted people to withhold judgment until all ideas are on the table.
What’s unacceptable is any more refusal to face the problem in Washington, and for the politicians there not to assume that Americans can be treated as adults and told the truth.

NEMS Daily Journal

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