We must deal with debt and deficit

Friday, February 22, 2013


U.S. Representative

The sequester is coming, the sequester is coming, and Congress is not running to the rescue. As a matter of fact, Congress is not even in Washington, D.C., trying to avert it. The sequester, the deal made with tea partiers in the 112th Congress so they would vote to raise the debt limit, will force untargeted and irresponsible cuts to domestic programs and the military, shrink about 1.4 million jobs over time, and will be like a “rolling calamity” to the economy and essential programs. Repeated warnings from various groups, ranging from the Department of Defense to hospitals to first responders, are falling on deaf ears. We should all work on debt reduction. The way Congress chose to do so, the sequester, is harmful to the economy, a disaster of Congress’ own making, and needs to be tossed for a better strategy.

‘Already a compromise’

In his Washington Post essay, “When the Sequester Hits,” Jonathan Bernstein wrote, “... the sequester as it is — sharp cuts to domestic spending with some Democratic priorities protected, sharp cuts to defense spending — is, for Republicans, already a compromise position from the even deeper domestic cuts they’ve advocated ever since the Paul Ryan-authored budget passed the House in 2011.” So Republicans won’t budge on the sequester, because they want these deep cuts and have in fact proposed even deeper ones. They will not consider any revenue increases to prevent these cuts.

Democrats won’t budge because these cuts are already threatening so many programs, and they want a combination of cuts and revenue increases, done partly by ending some subsidies.

End subsidies

I would like to see us take steps such as ending subsidies to industries like oil and sugar, getting incredibly successful companies (such as Facebook) to start paying federal income taxes, having Congress change their 2003 law and now allow the federal government to negotiate the price of prescription drugs, and also doing targeted and careful cutting. I think most middle class Americans would like that also.

The sequester is a poor attempt to deal with the larger problem, the debt and deficit. They are too large. Everyone agrees that we should reduce them. Senator Alan Simpson and Ernskine Bowles, of Simpson and Bowles budget fame, said that the $85 billion in cuts just through September (the ultimate cuts will be about a trillion dollars) are “mindless” and the wrong approach.” But who should bear the brunt of the cuts? What are the greatest drivers here?

What this is really about is trying to cut what are called “entitlement” programs, or “earned benefits” – Social Security and Medicare. First, Social Security has not caused a penny of this debt. In 2033, it will fall short if we don’t tweak it, but we will. We could fix that future problem right now by raising the cap. Currently, we stop paying Social Security tax at about $110,000. That’s a great deal for people earning $500,000, who only have to pay on about 20 percent of their pay, and unfair to someone earning $50,000, who has to pay on every dollar.

Health care is a different story. Although health care costs are enormous and our population is getting older, politicians rejected single payer and left us spending more than twice what other countries who have single payer spend. They would rather just cut the programs.

Matthew Yglesias, Slate’s business and economics correspondent, wrote, “The main policy debate here isn’t about deficits but about spending, and specifically spending on the elderly.” I know what House leadership means when they say “cut the spending” instead of “find the savings.” Seniors certainly do. They know they are being unfairly targeted.

We have to decide who we are as a society and what we believe in, and then decide what we must do to live up to who we are. Do we stop spending on programs that people need, or do we find ways to make them more efficient, cut subsidies, and find other revenue to support them? I say toss the sequester, and find the savings.

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represents New Hampshire’s First District. She previously served the district from 2007-11, and she was re-elected in November 2012. The Congresswoman is again serving on the House Armed Services Committee and the Natural Resources Committee.

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