The Big Budget Chill

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BY TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE – Considering all the talk about  freezes around town, you would think we were having a record cold snap in D.C. Instead it’s a flurry of discussion about freezing the budget one way or another in order to try to rein in the deficit. But in reality there are no budget balancing silver bullets. And while the freeze proposals are sound bite ready and make for succinct legislation, they can create an avalanche of budget problems.


The most recent freeze proposal came during the President’s State of the Union address – maintain current spending levels for 5-years. This week the House adopted a proposal to cut the current year’s budget to fiscal year 2008 levels. And the House Republican Study Committee proposes to cut funding to fiscal year 2006 levels and eliminate a wide range of discretionary spending programs. There is a litany of other freeze and across-the-board budget cut proposals that have been introduced in the first days of the 112th Congress.

Let’s be clear, we appreciate all the attention the budget and deficit have been getting lately. We wish this had been occurring over the last decade as well, then perhaps we wouldn’t be in this jam. But like most get-rich-quick schemes, the quick budget fix is illusion and may actually get in the way of truly resolving the issues.

Look at the budget numbers for fiscal year 2010. First off, by only targeting non-security discretionary spending, most of the proposals affect only $447 billion or roughly 15 percent of the total federal budget (minus interest on the debt). Security spending at $855 billion (including war funding) is ignored. So too are major areas of future spending growth in the non-discretionary budget like Social Security ($715 billion) and Medicare ($451 billion). In addition, revenue problems arising from the hodge-podge tax code aren’t recognized. The same problems are true of across-the-board cut proposals to prune budgets by 5 or 10 or 15 percent.

One of the worst things about blunt budget cutting instruments like setting a spending level or across the board cuts is that they treat everything in the budget the same. This defies common sense. The Census Bureau doesn’t need the same level of  funding in 2011 as it had in 2008 when it was gearing up for the decennial census. And with across the board cuts, all programs are equally penalized while some should probably receive increased or at least steady funding; some should be consolidated, cut, or eliminated.

Congress has to roll up its sleeves and gets its budgetary hands dirty. Programs and projects have to be evaluated to see if they are performing or necessary. They have to tackle entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and farm subsidies. The whole discretionary budget from Energy to Defense must be on the table. And we have to tackle the complicated, loophole ridden personal and corporate tax codes to eliminate wasteful or unnecessary tax expenditures and simplify the code.

Just like the late night infomercial selling the miracle weight loss gimmick, seductive quick and easy “solutions” are just going to cost us more money and accomplish little. A better model is the nonagenearian fitness guru Jack LaLanne who passed away this week. He preached that only hard work at exercise and eating less would shed the fat. We packed on trillions of dollars of debt in the last several years. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and effort and budgetary dieting to get our country fiscally fit. No pain, no gain.