Unwilling to budge(t)

| Staff Columnist

Amid the heated rhetoric by both sides of the protests in Wisconsin, it’d be easy to miss the bipartisanship taking place in Washington that President Obama called for in his State of the Union Address. Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, as well as the President, appear unwilling to seriously tackle the deficit, preferring instead to kick the can down the road to future leaders and future Americans.

The President’s 2012 budget calls for $3.73 trillion in spending while projecting a $1.6 trillion deficit. For every dollar spent, 44 cents will have to be borrowed, continuing the upward trend of our national debt and allowing it to eclipse our gross domestic product. Essentially, we will owe more than we produce. The even worse news is this budget assumes increasing tax revenues and increasing tax rates. Along with the expiring Bush tax cuts renewed in the 111th Congress, the budget assumes the raising of the capital gains rate, the estate tax, taxes on banks, insurance companies, energy companies, and even fees on airline passengers. Add to that the expectation of a fully recovered economy and the Obama budget is simply an unrealistic approach to combating our addiction to debt.

Congressional Republicans have followed through on their campaign pledge to reduce spending by eliminating $60 billion from domestic programs, foreign aid, and military projects. This sum is peanuts compared to the larger picture though. Unfortunately, Republicans seem content with their progress, unmotivated to fight for any substantial cuts. Despite their obvious differences, both parties are highlighting their reluctance to address our greatest threat.

The price of doing nothing is too high. Slowly, interest payments will consume much of what is taken in by the government in taxes. The President’s budget projects that interest payments will amount to nearly 80 percent of the new debt added in the next decade. Increasing spending across the board will lead to skyrocketing interest payments and an unsustainable future.

Congress and the President need to focus their bipartisanship on finding major cuts, rather than agreeing to neglect them. A simple look at the massive amount of federal expenditures could produce a shopping list of immediate cuts that wouldn’t affect the average American. End farm subsidies, since most of them go to corporate farmers anyway. Quit giving money to brutal dictators; keep the funds here at home. Consolidate federal bureaucracies that have proven inefficient and bloated, such as the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy and Homeland Security. Military spending must be drastically reduced to sensible levels, and our nation could be made safer as a result. Deploying our troops in over half of the world’s countries comes with a steep price tag, one that we can no longer afford as a nation.

The fears of massive unemployment resulting from government layoffs are overstated. Private sector growth trumps public sector growth and allocates resources more efficiently to a larger amount of people. Reducing the governmental burden on the economy and easing the fears of a debt crisis are major steps that can bring back confidence toward American investment.

In the long run, massive reforms will need to be undertaken in entitlement spending, which will affect millions of Americans currently dependent on these programs. This can’t be ignored as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security threaten to exponentially grow in the coming years and consume an ever larger portion of the federal budget. However, it is possible to minimize the pain. Before reducing benefits to needy Americans, our politicians need to cut the most wasteful spending first. It will be far better to transition away from these programs on our terms than to wait until we are forced to make changes. Cutting federal bureaucracy, militarism and corporate welfare are a good start.

Drastic steps are needed, but our country finds itself in drastic times. A debt that exceeds our country’s GDP is unacceptable and dangerous. Bipartisanship is alive and well in our nation’s capital as both parties fail to provide serious solutions to a growing threat. Rather than worrying about a temporary government shutdown, our attention should be focused on avoiding a future government default.

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