Straight Talk on Balancing the Federal Budget
(Warning: Some Excessive Profanity)
We are bankrupt.
Actually, that’s not true. We are 16 trillion dollars beyond being bankrupt. Trillion — with a “T.” Think about that for a moment. Let it sink it.
If you’re not mad as hell yet, then shut the page and go read something else. Today’s column isn’t for you.
The so-called “fiscal cliff” debate happening in Washington right now underscores the reality that the two-party system has utterly failed us on every level. Such a perverted system shows no capacity to either compromise, nor govern. It’s a disgrace to the concept of democracy. The two parties are fucking America in the ass and we’re all Ned Beatty.
Those of us out of the political mainstream, far removed from the dog and pony show, have been screaming for years that things would eventually come to this. We foresaw the two major power brokers would eventually reach a stare down and come to what amounts to a political stalemate — where virtually nothing gets accomplished.
The debate goes something like this. Liberals want to spend more money and expand the role of government. Conservatives want to make budget cuts and decrease government’s role, opting to shift power to the private sector.
But that’s a gross over-simplification of what’s really happening. In fact, it’s far more complicated. There are plenty of government programs liberals would love to slash (you’ll see my list in a moment). Moreover, many government programs receive their strongest support from conservatives.
The bottom line is — we’re in a crisis. We have no choice. Either make drastic cuts. Or, increase revenues (taxation). Or both.
Where the two parties fail is in not telling us the truth. It’s time to level with the American people and simply announce that we all must all make some sacrifices. Everyone. We are all in this together. I know, my socialism is showing again. But these times demand shared sacrifices. The sooner this nation is confronted with some kind of honest “fireside chat” moment where our leaders finally level with us, the sooner we can tend to the peoples’ business and get back on financial track.
Here’s my “wish list” of what should be cut (or added) to balance the federal budget:
1. RAISE THE SOCIAL SECURITY RETIREMENT (AND MEDICARE ELIGIBILITY) AGE
Keeping the retirement age at 62 and 65 is poisonous and preposterous. Those retirement ages were dreamed up way back in the 1930′s when the average life span was 60 years old. We must acknowledge that people are living longer and healthier lives today. Yesterday’s 62 and 65 is today’s 72 and 75. Increase the retirement age by ten years. Don’t like it? Too bad. We’re broke. There’s no money left and even less funds will be available as the Baby Boomers start drawing government checks. Everyone lacks political courage on this issue. They’re cowards. It’s time for real leaders of this country to grow a backbone and tell America what they may not want to hear — we’re all going to have to work more years before taking retirement. If they want to retire early, do it on their own dime. SAVINGS: About 7 percent of the federal budget.
2. CUT ALL FEDERAL PENSIONS IN HALF
Government workers have enjoyed extraordinary fringe benefits for decades. The gravy train is over. Sorry, but working 20 years as a federal employee doesn’t not entitle you to receive 40 years of extended benefits. Thanks for your service. But your work wasn’t any different from millions of Americans who worked most of their lives in the private sector, many of whom have seen their pensions cut. Major renovations need to be made to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). In addition, these same cuts should apply to former elected officials, as well — including members of congress. SAVINGS: About 1.5 percent of the federal budget.
3. RETURN TO FEDERAL TAX RATES OF THE CLINTON ERA
The 1990′s were a boom period for our economy. Few complained about the 39 percent tax rate paid by the top one-percent. Now, the top tax rate is down to 35 percent and some conservatives want it lowered even further, despite all evidence showing most rich people squirrel away additional earnings rather than go out and hire more workers. This is lunacy. The richest Americans should be paying more in taxes. Even the 39 percent rate isn’t really a benchmark, since so many high-income people pay substantially less in taxes due to loopholes (Best Example — Recall that billionaire Mitt Romney actually payed only about 15 percent in taxes). SAVINGS (INCREASED REVENUE): About 1 percent of the federal budget.
4. SLASH THE INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES
These paper-shifting bureaucrats accomplish virtually nothing. Federal agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and a host of other lesser-known dependents sucking the tit of the military and defense establishment produce volumes of useless data that virtually no one reads, no regular American citizen is entitled to see, nor instigates any major changes in either domestic or foreign policy. We’re essentially paying 100,000 people based in Langley and Fort Meade to do what just about any major news organization like CNN or the BBC does, or in cases where greater detail is needed — what think tanks like the Rand Corporation do. Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland are littered with worthless federal agencies and bloated programs of no benefit to anyone except the Winston Smiths of the black ops world. Moreover, consider that the American intelligence community has failed us on just about every major global development over the past 20 years — whether it was failing to predict the fall of Communism, failing to forecast the rise of pan-Islamism, failing to foresee or prevent any terrorist attacks either on U.S. soil or anywhere else in the world, or continuing to languish hopelessly behind in the new communications network of the Internet and social media (which largely fueled the Arab Spring movement). The intelligence agencies are a complete waste of taxpayer money and resources. They don’t do shit. Time to make drastic cuts. SAVINGS: About 3 percent of the federal budget.
5. CUT ALL FOREIGN AID
We’re broke. Read those words again. American is bankrupt. So, why are we still throwing dice at the craps table? Why is this nation sending even one dollar overseas? It’s criminal that American cities are crumbling and that we’re $16 billion in debt and climbing. Yet we continue to ship billions of dollars in free money over to places like Pakistan, Egypt, and Israel. Here’s an idea: Let them work out their own problems. Let them pay their own bills. Let’s use some of those billions to build roads and bridges at home and create new energy alternatives. Sending even one dollar out of this nation anywhere else (except in the most dire humanitarian crisis) is a traitorous act. We are broke. Busted. Stop the bleeding. Let other nations take care of themselves and solve their own problems. Now! SAVINGS: About .5 percent of the federal budget.
6. CUT MILITARY SENDING BY ONE-THIRD
Why is our nation still the world’s policeman? The military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about has gripped the balls of the nation’s leaders so tight that it’s become impossible to make serious spending cuts — even when the military approves (examples are plentiful — I won’t list them here). Defense amounts to about one-third of our federal budget. And what do we get for that shitload of money? I don’t see an invasion coming from Mexico or Canada. Why are we needlessly wasting trillions a year on agencies and programs that provide no tangible value to society? Why do we continue to spend more money on the military than the other combined 15 nations of the world ranked behind us? It’s madness! Even continuing to spend two-thirds of what we now blow is too much. Wouldn’t that be enough to keep us safe? SAVINGS: About 11 percent of the federal budget.
7. DEMAND HIGHER PAYMENTS OF THOSE WHO USE FEDERAL LANDS
Why are we allowing big oil companies and mining enterprises to rape federal lands and make astronomical profits? Let’s see if I have this right. These companies drill and mine resources located on the people’s land. Then, they turn around and sell those same products back to us at inflated prices and make obscene profits. Is that pretty much the picture? Why do we allow oil companies to drill in places like Alaska and not share the wealth with the national treasury? Isn’t this the people’s oil? Don’t the precious minerals mined on federal lands belong to the people? The giant corporations have paid off the entire legislative branch with sweetheart deals and have so corrupted the political process that they’re now stealing our nation’s most precious resources. It’s criminal. This must stop. SAVINGS (INCREASED REVENUE): About 2 percent of the federal budget.
8. IMPLEMENT AN IMMEDIATE COST OF LIVING (PAY RAISE) FREEZE FOR ALL FEDERAL WORKERS
Many citizens in the private sector haven’t enjoyed a pay raise in years. Many more have seen their salaries decrease. Still many more have become unemployed. This is not the time to be increasing anyone’s pay. And if there’s protest, then let the federal employee walk. In most cases, plenty of qualified applicants are available to fill the vacancies. All one must do is look at the huge pool of unemployed college graduates who would gladly snap up these jobs. Furthermore, no federal pay raise should ever exceed the rate of annual inflation. SAVINGS: Less than 1 percent of the federal budget.
9. STOP ALL WELFARE/FOOD STAMP PAYMENTS AFTER THREE YEARS
Some people seriously need help. And, we should help them. But three years seems like a long enough time to change your life, make a move, get job training, get off dope, or do something positive that will enable you to rejoin the workforce. Except in the rarest circumstances, no citizen should ever be receiving benefits past the three-year mark. If so, something is very wrong and the problem usually rests with the unmotivated freeloader. As a committed Socialist, I favor a society where people work together rather than in competition and where basic fairness exists for everyone. But allowing deadbeats to abuse the system for years at a time doesn’t really help them. It harms society by creating a permanent underclass. SAVINGS: About 5 percent of the federal budget.
10. DEMAND THAT ALL AMERICANS PAY SOMETHING IN TAXES
There’s an alarming statistic that something like 40 percent or more of all Americans pay no federal taxes. This is obscene. All Americans should pay something out of their pockets for the right to be a citizen. Even if it’s a few dollars per year. Paying taxes initiates civil-minded responsibility. It makes for an engaged citizenry. Tax codes should be re-written that require every citizen of an adult age to pay a nominal amount per year in federal taxes, a rate which increases with the level of personal income. No exceptions. SAVINGS (INCREASED REVENUE): Perhaps 2 percent of the federal budget.
So, where would this leave us? If my math is correct, adopting all my measures would slash about 32 percent from the annual federal budget. Imagine that. We’d be completely out of the red in just three years. We’d have a record budget surplus by the year 2016. We’d be a leaner and far more productive nation. We’d then be able to afford investing more heavily in massive infrastructure projects and rebuild this nation as the model of the 21st Century.