Seeking a smarter approach to the budget

By Senator Roy Blunt
May 30, 2013

Capitol Building in Washington, February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Sequestration grew out of a political impasse: Republicans refused to raise the government’s borrowing limit in 2011 without starting to bring spending under control, but Democrats refused to make choices about where to cut spending.

So the president devised sequestration, on the theory that cutting spending in such a painful and dumb way would force Republicans to raise taxes. Spending on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare was mostly spared, but other programs, particularly defense, got across-the-board cuts.

As a result, thousands of federal workers, including border security and FBI agents, are being told to expect unpaid furloughs in the coming weeks and months. And that is only the beginning. If there is one thing Democrats and Republicans in Washington can now agree on, it is this: The sequester must be replaced.

Congress has taken bipartisan action to fix small pieces of it. To avert flight delays, we transferred Federal Aviation Administration funds to keep air-traffic controllers working and flight towers open. When the Food Safety and Inspection Service announced it was planning to furlough essential employees required to be on-site for meatpacking and other food production businesses to operate, I led the effort on the Senate floor to keep those critical personnel working.

These examples highlight the sequester’s arbitrary and destructive effects, but they also demonstrate Congress’s ability to come up with common-sense solutions. The question is whether Congress will show the same resolve to legislate a smarter approach to budgeting in general.

There are two options for sequester replacement. One, get rid of the spending limits enacted in 2011. Republicans will not agree to this – nor should they. A government that celebrates when the yearly deficit is projected to be “only” $645 billion is a government badly in need of fiscal discipline.

Americans believe the government spends far too much for our country’s long-term health, and they’re right. However, it’s not as though the spending limits in place would take discretionary spending back to the 1890s. It would only take us back to roughly 2008.

A lot of American families are spending no more now than they did in 2008. The federal government can accept the same constraints.

This leaves us with only one option for replacement. By choosing to live with the spending limits we passed two years ago, Congress can get back to regular order and make the hard decisions about where to rein in federal spending. Leadership requires setting priorities and making those hard choices. The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to appropriate money from the Treasury. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I take that responsibility seriously.

House appropriators have moved us forward by agreeing to adhere to the limit of $966 billion for non-entitlement spending in 2014. This is the maximum amount the law would allow without having to make any across-the-board cuts – in other words, no sequester.

We should not put in the law for the next nine years to break spending limits that we already accepted. We could, on the other hand, agree on a budget that respects those limits – but hits them in a more rational way than sequestration.

Both sides should now agree that it is better to spend the same amount of money intelligently and deliberately rather than according to the sequester’s mechanical formula. The chief obstacle to such a deal is the Democrats’ hope that sticking with sequestration will force Republicans to raise taxes and spending.

Once they abandon that fantasy, we might be able to get a budget that looks a little bit more like someone designed it on purpose.

 

PHOTO (Insert A): The air traffic control tower at the Ramona Airport in Ramona, California, March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

PHOTO (Insert B): President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal is released to Senate staff members on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 10, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

23 comments

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@flashrooster,

Let’s try to stick to the facts, then. “…the US economy wasn’t robust during the 1940s – 1960s because of War Bonds.” “The war ended in 1945, not at the end of the 1960s.” Yeah, I got it.

Try to envision the “big picture here”. War bonds BOUGHT to 1945 of varying maturities. The American people were getting back their money, plus interest as they cashed in those War Bonds.

I’m not sure how long after maturity they continued to pay interest (if they did). But they bought them over time, and so their money would come back over a similar or longer period.

I speculated to 1955 or so, at which time the country turned it’s attention and priority to American infrastructure. The building of the Interstate Highway System and associated investment and employment carried forward into the sixties.

You and I agree that over this period “…we had high taxation, unions were at their apex, the government was investing heavily in our country–infrastructure, education, etc.–companies paid good wages, and yet there were still plenty of rich people living the life of Riley.”

But the surge of money that made all this economic activity possible was WAR MONEY! Today’s economists understand that a dollar earned and spent is just the first of three and four “economic bounces” benefiting the economy.

Raise taxes today to the levels of the ’40s, 50s and 60s and money will leave this country like rats leaving a sinking ship. Try to limit CEO pay, and companies will relocate from U.S. soil. We aren’t Venezuela. We don’t nationalize companies in America. Get used to it.

Changing applicable laws requires consensus that takes time to build. The gate will inevitably close long after the horse is gone because private enterprise is infinitely more financially agile than government.

There’s NO “war money” today, “monetary manna from heaven” to replay the post-WW II scenario. Economists have also learned, much to their dismay, that today’s “printing press money” does NOT convey the same economic “bounces” as “war money” did.

Our government is today “investing” almost unbelievable amounts “in our country”…the sheer dollars going out to unemployment benefits without end, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, Food Stamps, federal, state and local union bureaucrats, military wages and defense contracts, disaster relief, and an infinite number of new alphabet soup government agencies..

Add those all together and pretty soon government expenditures become downright frightening. We see this in an exploding deficit even as America keeps running up against it’s Debt Limit. There’s NO FREE LUNCH! But cheer up. When government again “invests” in infrastructure, Davis-Bacon will insure that the American taxpayer will be “on the hook” for UNION wages on it ALL!

So why not start now? I’m ready, but uncertain how. As I have said previously, let’s cut the up to one third waste in Medicare payments and allow negotiation of drug prices under Medicare and Medicaid. Let’s seriously investigate investment fraud and bank mismanagement and send some people to jail.

Let’s eliminate the practice of lobbying and earmarks…institutionalized bribery for influence. Let’s establish two term limits such that the “political class” must disband and find honest work. Let’s agree that the way forward is not on the back of an ass or in the trunk of an elephant.

“We, the people” need to enter into good faith national dialog as to what we are willing to pay government to do. Let’s collectively and realistically separate our “needs” from our “wants” with full understanding that one person’s “want” is another person’s “need”.

I would like to see Congress prioritize and allocate available tax revenue to fund current government obligations to demonstrate the reasonable taxpayer expectation that they understand their job. Only when they demonstrate such willingness and capability should additional tax revenue be considered.

ALL of your concerns and all of my concerns should be “on the table”. I fully agree that the “status quo” is absolutely unsustainable and the time for change is now. BUT you don’t start out on a journey without a destination and a route.

How would YOU start this process, flashrooster?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

OneOfTheSheep: You can talk about change until you’re blue in the face, like our current government officials do, but we won’t get real change until we break the hold that special interests have on our government. They determine what legislation gets passed and what legislation is blocked. In fact, lobbyists write many of the bills that come before Congress. That’s where you have to start because that’s the only way the American public will be able to get our government to start representing us again.

Some form of campaign finance reform has to take place. But we have to understand that such reform will be met with stiff resistance, resistance that will make what we saw when Democrats were trying to pass universal background checks look like kid’s play. In order to seriously implement the change we need to take back our government, we have to first understand that 99% of America’s power structure will oppose the people. They don’t want the change we need because the status quo is making them rich beyond their wildest dreams. It protects the seats of those in our government and protects the level of income for those funding the campaigns of those in government. That’s our power structure. That’s about as formidable an opposition as one can have.

The one thing that the people have on their side are the numbers. We have to come together and organize. We have to demand serious campaign finance reform, and we have to be willing to back up those demands, even if it means taking to the streets. You might think this is radical, but you can’t hold our Founding Fathers up as the standard bearers of freedom and liberty and then claim that protesting our current corrupt government as being too extreme. Our Founders took up guns and overthrew their government. I don’t think that would be necessary.

We have the advantage in numbers, but they have the money, and with money they can buy pretty much whatever they want, including a propaganda campaign discrediting any serious movement demanding comprehensive campaign finance reform.

So, in my opinion, that’s what we’re up against. We could be a great country again, but it won’t happen until we get our government to represent us again, and that won’t happen until we cut off the flow of money from special interests to our politicians. Otherwise, we’re wasting our time discussing the issues. Our energy policy will be based on what is best for oil company profits, not what is best for the American people. Our healthcare policy will be based on what is best for healthcare industry profits, not what is best for the American people. Our foreign policy will be based on what is best for the military-industrial complex’s profits, not what is best for the American people.

If you have a better solution I’d love to hear it. Just don’t say that we just need to elect better people, or throw all the bums out, or whatever. That won’t work. It’s our system that’s broken. Elect new people and they’ll have to fall in line with the system, or those in power will put their money behind an opponent in the next election and take the seat. 94% of the candidates that outspend their opponents win their elections.

If you want to know how we got here, read Hedrick Smith’s Who Stole the American Dream. It’s non-partisan, so don’t think it’s a book just lambasting the GOP. Both parties are controlled by the same folks. Or you can watch his lecture in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tLped6GF GA

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

@flashrooster,

For the first time you and I each speak and each listen. I don’t find any huge issue with anything your have said here. You’ve done a good job of describing the issues before us.

I don’t yet see “a solution”. There is no logical starting point obvious to my eyes. I agree that the very people we need to replace control the levers of government and the electorial process, and they have the science of splitting up the electorate down to a fine science.

By the time anyone gets to the point of electability they are beholden to “special interests”, i.e. the Republicans or the Democrats or the lobbyists or other “hidden agendas and those not so hidden. So, once more, “we, the people” get ballot choices of “bad” and “worse”, frequently unable to vote FOR anyone…having to vote “against” an even worse choice.

I won’t pretend that you and I are likely to ever agree on many issues, but more is feasible in cooperation than in adversity. That’s why I prefer to seek out and try to work together as possible. I see no “defeat” in “agreeing to disagree” with mutual respect on other subjects.

It’s hard to accomplish much with both hands are always around someone else’s throat! Thanks for listening.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive