Delusions of a Prodigal Nation

We’ve all heard the news about the GOP’s new “Pledge to America,” which states, more or less, “We pledge allegiance to the Tea Party, and to the millions of voters for which it stands, and promise to do whatever it says.”  No, it doesn’t really say that, but of course, it’s no secret that the Republicans are tripping over themselves to try to align themselves with, rather than against, the foaming unstoppable wave of right-wing fury the Tea Party represents.  The basic message of this movement is to say, “No to taxes” categorically, “No to government spending” loudly but vaguely, and “No to deficits” as an afterthought.  Taxes, we are told, are at unacceptable levels–never mind that they are lower than they have been in decades (whereas the highest marginal tax rate under the conservative Eisenhower was 91%, now it’s only 36%!).  And never mind that income inequality has shot to unprecedented levels, with the richest Americans increasing their incomes even in the midst of recession, and with the top 20% now accounting for 49.4% of all income, making it hard to see on what basis one would oppose higher marginal tax rates.  

So, we must balance the budget without increasing taxes, we are told.  This will be easy, the Pledge to America assures us, with a vague wave of its hand promising $100 billion in spending cuts by getting rid of “wasteful government spending.”  But that won’t be enough–assuming that Congress does defy the Tea Party and let the Bush tax cuts expire for the top two income brackets, then, if we don’t want to raise any more taxes, we will need $255 billion per year in spending cuts to achieve a balanced budget by 2015, which is pretty much a fiscal necessity.  How hard is it to cut $255 billion per year?  A new study by the Center for American Progress reveals the bleak answer.  

As my friend Byron Smith summarizes (thanks to his blog for the link):

“Cuts include: three quarters of agricultural subsidies; ninety-five billion from defence (including significant reductions for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and reductions in standing nuclear capacity; in all almost a 15% reduction); reductions to social security payments; no new highways; subsidies for fossil fuel and nuclear research reduced by 90%; significant reductions to international aid, correctional services, customs and border enforcement, health research, NASA, National Parks, FEMA, agricultural research, EPA and much, much more.”

Of course, even this may not dissuade right-wingers who want the government out of all these things.  But thinking that, in principle, it’d be better if the government didn’t spend money on these things does not mean that it’s at all sane to try to get the government out of all these things at once.  If you have a caffeine addict who’s in a depressed slump, then while you’re trying to get him back on his feet, it’s best not to try to make him go cold turkey on caffeine at the same time.  

2 thoughts on “Delusions of a Prodigal Nation

  1. bradley

    Not disagreeing with your overall point here, but I'd like to say that cutting $255 billion might not be terribly difficult if it weren't for politics. Center For American Progress, as summarized by Byron above, mentions NASA, National Parks, agricultural subsidies, research, etc. But by far the hugest portions of the budget are spent on Defense, Social Security, and Medicare. Those three alone make up over $1,700 billion of the budget. By comparison, the National Park Service uses less than $3 billion annually. Here's a helpful graphic to put things in perspective.

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  2. The CAP report also makes major cuts to the military and significant cuts to social security and medicare. My summary was simply trying to give a quick sense of the breadth the cuts required too, to remind people that there are all kinds of areas where government provides services that they may be taking for granted.The graphic is helpful and PhD is always apt!

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