Opinion: Is The U.S. Up To Confronting Its Debt?Opinion: Is The U.S. Up To Confronting Its Debt?
December 10, 2010
If you want to view one of the scariest things on the Internet, go to www.usdebtclock.org/. It’s the U.S. Debt Clock. There you’ll see the result of the spending engine that is building and calcifying the millstone of debt that could weigh down U.S. fortunes for generations.
As the graphic shows, the largest budget items are:
Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, national defense, income security (which includes supplemental security income, earned income credits, unemployment compensation, nutrition assistance, family support, child nutrition, foster care and Making Work Pay), interest on the debt, and federal pensions (civilian, military retirement and veteran benefits).
While most of these items are traditionally considered as sacrosanct, debt and spending are widely regarded as two of the big issues that drove folks to the polls last month to wrest control of the House of Representatives from Democrats. But the draft discussion report produced last month by the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (NCFRR), formed back in February by President Obama to address our nation’s fiscal challenges, hints at just how hard that will be.
The NCFRR was charged with “identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run.” The commission’s role was “to propose recommendations designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015.”
The NCFRR, which has no actual power, developed “illustrative” recommendations that totaled $200 billion – $100 billion on the domestic front, and another $100 billion from defense.
Among the proposals were things that would sound popular to most folks – things like reducing Congressional and White House budgets by 15%; freezing federal salaries and bonuses; cutting the federal workforce by 10%; cutting the federal travel budget; slowing the growth of foreign aid; and selling excess federal property.
But the ideas also include some the livestock industry has traditionally opposed – new user fees that would require food-processing facilities to finance food safety and inspection services, for one. There’s also a gradual increase in the gas tax to fund transportation; and the reduction of farm subsidies by $3 billion/year by reducing direct payments, Conservation Security Program funding, and funding for the Market Access Program.
Pork-barrel spending, or earmarks, is widely derided, but mostly only if it’s someone else’s pork. A recent Rasmussen Reports survey found that while half of respondents (48%) favored a ban prohibiting all members of Congress from steering taxpayer money to pet projects in their home districts, 36% opposed the idea. And another 15% weren’t sure. That’s not exactly a mandate.
In the NCFRR report, panel members say the deficit fix will be painful and everyone will have to suffer. But it’s going to take a lot to reach consensus on this one, and the only sure thing about this crisis is that it won’t be quick or easy.
-- Joe Roybal
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