Saturday, July 30, 2011

Past v. Future

I watched a clip featuring Bill Maher from an appearance on the Lawrence O'Donnell show on MSNBC. I find I agree with him far more often than not and this time was no exception. He made a specific statement that struck me. While talking about the debt ceiling negotiations he noted it's stupid to lump the debt limit with budget deals because the debt ceiling is about the past and the budget is about the future. This seems to nail the issue rather well.

Few will argue that our past spending habits as a nation were flawed, to say the least. Too many short-sighted decisions, most of them completely unaccounted for in the budget, have piled up a tremendous amount of national debt. Some expenditures may well have been necessary, but many were not. Put simply, it was just easier to put it on credit than to bother adjusting our budget to pay for it. Don't get me wrong, there are times when you have to do that, but they should not be that common. So now our debt is in the $14 Trillion range and projected budget deficits are still way into the red. This has to not only stop, but we have to put some plans into place to begin paying down the national debt to a more manageable level. But let's be clear, the debt is the past. Debt: "Something, typically money, that is owed or due." Past-tense. The money is spent, the clothes have been worn and the food has been eaten. No amount of whining, moaning or cuts to current spending will change that. If we didn't spend one more penny on new expenditures, we would still owe $14 Trillion. So let's stop fighting about the balance of our current debt. We owe the money and we have to pay it back, honoring our prior commitments. So let's just raise the limit on a clean, no frills bill and move onto the next crisis!

Where the real debate should be taking place is with the federal budget. This is about future spending and has no place in a debt ceiling debate. This is the messy part. It would be nice if we could debate it without all the partisan crap that has brought the sticky gears of Congress to near standstill. We really do have to look at everything, including the military, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, federal agencies and programs. But this needs to be done with a scalpel, not a hatchet. We want the patient to make a full recovery, not require prosthetics and plastic surgery!

We didn't get into this mess in a single decade, so we ain't getting out of it overnight. We need to approach the problem of the national debt and the budget deficits calmly and rationally. All sides must be willing to give a little. That means looking at entitlement programs for any possible savings without cutting benefits, such as raising the retirement age a few years. It means closing stupid loopholes in the tax code that allow highly profitable companies and fund managers to get special breaks that have no purpose other than to make them richer. It means looking at the military budget, especially drawing down the wars and reducing permanent overseas bases. It also means killing the unpaid for Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy.

I admit I'm not optimistic because these days there seem to be so few reasonable people in Congress. Especially after the November 2010 election debacle which ushered in a wave of uber-conservative politicians who seem to be completely out of touch with reality. Look, we've wasted months arguing about this and accomplished nothing. The debate has even managed to fracture the Republican party itself. The Republican Speaker of the House can't even get his own bills passed without days of delayed votes and arm twisting. And worse yet, he wasted all that time and effort on a bill that was never going to pass the Senate! Bottom line, we have to pay our bills, and meet our obligations, so raise the debt limit with no strings. The budget must be addressed, but not like this. Not in the last seconds before the car goes over the cliff. Stop risking a full blown depression for political leverage!

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