Still waiting for your $ 1 trillion budget cut ideas

Hey, loyal readers, I offered a free lunch at St. Anne’s to anyone who could come up with a way to balance the federal budget. So far, no winner.

Come on, people, I hear they got a new shipment of government canned salmon — good stuff!

The problem is getting critical. As Paul Krugman argues in today’s NYTimes, the guys who want to “starve the beast,”  of government by reducing federal revenues so much that government will be forced to cut services have pretty much achieved their goal. Federal revenues are down, spending is up, the budget is so far out of whack it just boggles the mind.

His column asks for the same thing mine did: OK, you got what  you wanted, now what do we cut? Absent cuts now, he warns, we will have a true crisis, a true meltdown, and then we’ll all be in deep do-do and have to face the mess. Ideally we wouldn’t wait for that to happen, but we seem to lack the sort of leaders it would take to take intelligent, proactive measures.

Just to balance this year’s federal budget we’d need about a trillion dollars either in cuts or new revenue. Since new taxes are off the table, that means cuts.

And since military spending is also off the table — for some reason the US Military is that magical entity, a government program in which there is no wasted money anywhere. Every single dollar of the $800 billion we spend there is critical, essential, and not waste or excess profit — everything else in the budget will have to be cut by closer to 25 percent, or more. Who knows?

My offer still stands. Show me how to cut $1 trillion THIS YEAR, as the Republicans are screaming for. None of this pie in the sky predictions that the Bush, Clinton, Reagan and Carter White Houses were so fond of, always saying their methods would balance the budget in five years or seven, or something – always a date conveniently in the next administration, notice?

And your proposal has to be doable. And remember, no fair raising taxes and the military is sacred.

It would be nice if you’d also come up with a way to deal with the consequences of your cuts. Unless you can show how all the money you are cutting is coming out of funds being hidden away in Cayman Islands accounts, that $1 trillion represents a lot of  jobs. The resulting unemployment, both direct and indirect, will be rather substantial. Might want to keep that in mind.

I found one comment put up by someone on Krugman’s post to be so interesting I pass it on. This person, as I, really does question the need for all that military spending. He also questions the so-called conservative credentials of the so-called conservatives we have today, who are about as conservative as jack the ripper.

A true conservative – and by that I do not mean any of the rodeo clowns on TV and radio or politicians who label themselves as conservative – would recommend that the US drastically reduce the “defense” budget and stop entangling the nation in (or actually creating) messy foreign conflicts that actually decrease the security, physical and economic, of American citizens. Virtually no one in Congress, self-labeled conservatives, progressives, whatever, will touch this subject for the same reason they won’t touch reducing Medicare or altering Social Security, it is political suicide – or so they are told by people who make a living “advising” congressmen. If the US were to eliminate the various sexy high tech “defense” toys that generals, admirals and military contractors are so very fond of but are of no use to anyone (other than the shareholders of the affected corporations), the saving would be huge, especially over time as these systems are extraordinarily expensive to keep going. Instead, a military budget that focused on real “defense” needs would provide much more for actual soldiers and far less for whizbang gadgets that are so conveniently profitable to the relative handful of corporations that “compete” for the contracts.

The enormous cost of projecting power (or creating an illusion of the ability to do so) around the globe, maintaining military bases and kicking various sleeping dogs and hornets nests, makes America a poorer nation and Americans less safe. Nowhere in any founding document of the US is the country mandated to be the world police. Real conservatives, real patriots, understand this.

Of course a primary reason for doing all this is to ensure access to cheap oil, for the US and, ironically, for the military itself since it is probably the largest single user of petroleum on the planet. The opportunity costs of decades of this obscene misallocation of resources, capital and human, are staggering. Imagine how much better Americans and humanity in general would if the various administrations and congresses had the political courage to have this discussion.

Remember the so-called “Peace Dividend” the nation was supposedly going to enjoy after the demise of the Soviets? How’s that


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7 Responses to Still waiting for your $ 1 trillion budget cut ideas

  1. flatlander100 says:

    Upton Sinclair had the best explanation for why what you’re describing isn’t going to change, Charlie: “It is difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on their not understanding it.” Social Security recipients are all for federal budget cuts… except of course in Social Security. Those on Medicare want federal budget cuts too, massive ones… so long as they don’t affect Medicare. All those right-wing retired military Utah seems to have so many of want huge budget cuts… so long as that does not involve federal pensions for retired military. Rob Bishop was all for the marketplace and private industry as the most efficient solver of problems and for cutting federal spending… until President Obama canceled the federal-government rocket development program in favor of encouraging private enterprise privately developed rockets instead, at which point Bishop became a loud supporter of Big Government research and the massive government spending that supports it, and, an opponent of the free market in rocket design.

    There is a method that will work, and has worked in the past when Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, agreed to the Paygo principle [no increase in federal spending without a corresponding offset by spending cuts or revenue increases], and it worked because the political heat for the agreement was thought to fall more or less equally on both sides. Something similar might be arranged now if we had Senators and Congressmen interested in something larger than their own re-elections, something like, say, the national good. They could arrange, if they wanted to, the bipartisan committee [equal representation for both parties] to devise a deficit reduction agreement, but it would have to have equal amounts of pain, political pain, for both sides, to work. For every dollar in spending cuts [painful for the left if they involved medicare, social security, federal pensions, and other entitlement programs, as they inevitably would], a dollar in increased taxes [painful for the right]. But as we saw about ten days ago, both congressional Democrats and Congressional Republicans insisted that their particular sacred cows be taken off the table first. Result: not enough votes to break the filibuster in the Senate to create the commission.

    The next time an American working for the World Bank visits a third world country in economic trouble, and proceeds to lecture about what the third world country must do to reduce its debt, the response should be a whooping horse laugh.

  2. Charles Trentelman says:

    the national good? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    as if anyone cares about that. We’re talking about who’s right here, not the national good.

    seriously, thanks for the post and you are, of course, absolutely correct, but I think the only way to challenge the blather effectively is to keep asking, as I intend to do at every opportunity, “Where are your numbers?”

    When someone says “We need to cut federal spending!” the next question out of everyone;s mouth should be “OK, which $600 billion program would you suggest?”


  3. Neal Humphrey says:

    I’ve just girded up my loins and read two blogs in a row (the most recent Gibson and Trentleman), and a question came to mind. It was provoked by Gibson’s comments about how high unemployment would be if we were still on the gold standard, and Trentleman’s challenge to balance the federal budget (which would lead to cuts in government jobs).

    The present unemployment rate is at least 10%, and doesn’t count those jobless who have given up on filling out paperwork. The lowest “real” unemployment estimate I’ve heard is 17%.

    I have the impression that almost all of the out-of-work folks lost private sector jobs. Is there a number for the number of government workers who are now unemployed? And I don’t mean contractors who provide products and services to the federal government, but direct employees of the federal government.

    If we ever get serious about a balanced federal budget, we’re probably going to have to get serious about dealing with a bajillion former employees of the federal government.

    ‘Just sayin’. (Askin’)

  4. laytonian says:

    I have a solution, and it’s guaranteed to fail. I’m not an accountant, and do not know how long it would take to save that trillion dollars:

    1 – Raise the minimum age for drawing Social Security retirement payments to age 70, 74 and 78.

    2 – Make it much harder to get Social Security disability income. If a paraplegic can go to work every day, a guy with a hurt back can go to work. Conversely, if you are mentally ill, we’ll take care of you.

    3 – Invoke a national sales tax on mail order purchases. Not just an “internet tax”, but a tax on a purchases from catalogs, TV infomercials, etc.

    4 – Change the “personal exemption” on Federal Income income tax forms to “household”. You get ONE household exemption, whether you live alone or are the Duggars. If you want a grundle of children, it’s your choice, not my subsidy.

    5 – Why do the blind get double personal exemptions on their income taxes? I see no double exemption for the deaf, the schizophrenics (who could logically claim several), or the arthritic.

    6 – Save Medicare by reusing medical appliances. We all know people who’ve died and left scooters, hospital beds, lift-seat chairs, walkers, and other appliances behind. They should be rented to the person directly by Medicare, and removed when the patient no longer needs them. Also sell them at WalMart, Target, CostCo…instead of through Medicare contract, if someone wants to actually own them.

    7 – If Medicare pays for the transplant, continue to pay for the drugs past three years. A new transplant is a lot more expensive.

    8 – As a retired federal employee, I am willing to take a 15% reduction in my monthly annuity IF the savings is applied towards building more prisons to house the unredeemable pedophiles and career criminals.

    9 – Defense is one thing. The military-industrial complex is another (and it was a Republican who warned us about that!) WHY do we contract work out, when the government could do it more cheaply themselves?

    10. Tax the underground economy. It wouldn’t be as hard now, as it used to be. I’ve seen several studies that say we wouldn’t even have a national debt, if people didn’t hide their income (ie, Joe Stack).

    11, Tax churches AND investigate other nonprofits. When some yahoo can start a church or nonprofit, and evade taxes, that’s a business. If a church is wealthy enough to own investment property, it’s a business. Tax it all.

    Enough for now

  5. laytonian says:

    12 – Stop fighting the useless “war on drugs” and legalize them instead. Tax and control them, either similar to alcohol sales or through a doctor’s prescription (depending on the drug). Realize that we can’t control someone’s behavior. This will reduce both law enforcement, legal and prison costs….and generate tax revenue.

  6. laytonian says:

    Neal, don’t forget that many private companies have used the economy as an excuse to make cuts.

    When a company cries that their sales are down 22% from last year (which was a record-breaker), they’re still bringing in more money than they did in previous years. But it’s a good excuse to make decisions now, some of which they should have made years before. But not all. The top tier hangers-on buddies are all still there, serving no defined purpose. The engineer who’s cost the company millions of dollars over the past three years, is still there.

    Yes, they can operate their business as they wish.
    But if they’re counting on moral support “during these tough times”, they’ve not fooled anyone.

  7. flatlander100 says:

    A Minor Historical Note:

    There was an administration within living memory that actually significantly reduced federal government civilian employees. It was the Clinton Administration. Vice President Gore was in charge of trimming the federal payroll and when the administration left office, there were I think about 22 thousand fewer federal civilian employees than when Clinton took office.

    Of course, the subsequent Bush administration blew that number to smithereens, just as it tanked the surplus and exploded the deficit with his ill-advised tax cut [coupled of course with increased spending]. But then, starting needless wars halfway around the world will do that.

    Just a minor historical note….

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