‘Sequester,’ here we go
(Kokomo, Ind., Tribune)
The budget cuts in a debt-limit deal two years ago were designed to be so distasteful they would force Republicans and Democrats to compromise.
The deal established a super-committee, charged with recommending $1.2 trillion in savings or additional revenue to avoid automatic spending cuts for both defense and domestic programs.
As the clock ticked down toward the November 2011 deadline, though, super-committee members had effectively thrown up their hands, and each side was blaming the other for the stalemate.
No one, of course, was really surprised.
The sad thing is that gridlock is what we’ve all come to expect from Congress. That’s the reason the institution’s approval rating now rests in the single digits.
What was also predictable was that lawmakers would try to wriggle out of the booby trap they set for themselves. Even as the clock ticked toward the deadline, Republicans were looking for ways to stave off the nearly $500 billion in defense cuts while Democrats were insisting they would fight off any effort to take a larger chunk out of domestic programs.
The measure calls for cuts of about $85 billion a year divided equally between defense and domestic programs. The law exempts Social Security, Medicaid and programs for veterans and the poor. It also limits Medicare to a 2 percent reduction. Education, agriculture and environmental programs would be faced with cuts of around 8 percent.
Americans have watched this scene play out with resignation, but what the situation really demands is a sense of outrage.
The only way to truly fix Congress is to vote the rascals out, to reject the partisans on both sides of the aisle and replace them with senators and representatives who will be willing to compromise.
Continuing to fill Congress with individuals who refuse to meet in the middle will get us nothing but more partisan bickering.
Voters need to elect lawmakers who understand the need for give and take, who recognize that to get something you often have to be willing to give something up.
That concept seems lost on today’s senators and representatives.
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Simpson-Bowles II can work
(The Free Press – Mankato, Minn.)
A new plan by longtime Washington politicos and budget experts Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson offers the most reasonable plan yet for solving the growing U.S. deficit and setting us on a long-term path to a sustainable economy.
There is something for every political stripe in the proposal. There are common sense ideas that appeal to the practical realities more and more Americans are coming to understand.
The deficit reduction target, at $2.4 trillion over 10 years, is between President Obama’s target of $1.5 trillion and Republicans goal of $4 trillion. The new Simpson-Bowles plan cuts spending and raises revenue. It removes business tax loopholes or breaks considered important by Republicans but reforms and trims spending on Medicare and Social Security that Democrats hold dear.
The plan is honest. It deals with hard realities all Americans need to face sooner than later. Spending must be cut. Revenue must be raised. Deficits must be trimmed. That means Republican and Democratic constituencies will have to contribute.
Spending cuts and closing of tax loopholes are balanced. The plan aims to cut $600 billion in spending by changing parts of expensive health care programs Medicare and Medicaid. The cost reductions will come from a variety of common sense ideas: cutting payments to providers, creating more incentives for patients to stay healthy, raising premiums for high earners and reducing drug costs.
Another $600 billion will be raised by closing tax loopholes that would bring in revenue. The final $1.2 trillion in cuts would come from change in inflation calculations for a number of programs including Social Security, farm subsidies and military and civilian retirement benefits.
Americans of all stripes should endorse this plan. In poll after poll Americans are behind deficit reduction and creating a sound fiscal footing for the future. This is a plan that will help that happen. But everyone must participate. Everyone must sacrifice.
Now, it is up to our political leaders to have the courage to look Americans straight in the eye and tell them so. And then they need to get it done.