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Don't Expect Any Realistic Talk About Deficits

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The current U.S. political cycle has created a very small window for any serious policy to be conducted. Between gearing up for midterm elections and the subsequent preparations for the presidential race, there is very little time for Congress to roll up its sleeves; and this does not factor the divisive climate that makes gridlock about the only thing for which there is bipartisan support.

Voters would be well-advised to view anything proposed by either party during midterm elections with a skeptical eye. For those who claim their primary concern is fiscal responsibility should be cringing at the Republican Congress' "Pledge to America."

Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan organization that advocates fiscal responsibility, said to the New York Times about the Pledge to America:

"It's a net increase in the deficit, because extending all of the tax cuts is a huge hit on the deficit, and they are not making anywhere near the magnitude of the spending cuts you would need to justify extending those tax cuts on a permanent basis."

Erick Erickson, the editor of the website redstate.com -- hardly a bastion of liberal ideology -- wrote of the pledge, "It is full of mom-tested, kid-approved pabulum that will make certain hearts on the right sing in solidarity," he editorialized. "But like a diet full of sugar, it will actually do nothing but keep making Washington fatter before we crash from the sugar high."

Beyond that, Republicans did not rediscover their rhetoric for fiscal responsibility until they were booted out of the majority in Congress and lost the White House, their vaunted pledge would add an estimated $4 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

But I don't solely fault Republicans for putting out a "political" document in the midst of an upcoming election; is that not what we the people expect? Pabulum with the right seasoning is perfectly acceptable in lieu of any meaningful change.

When did the art of running for office become more important than producing legislation once one becomes an elected official? When did compromise -- central to getting any meaning legislation passed -- become a political pejorative?

Moreover, those who bask in the glow of having punished their own in primary defeats for compromising with the opposition party in the short term, ultimately serve the interest of no one in the long term because they create disincentives to cooperate, making gridlock a false virtue.

Any talk of deficit reduction, no matter how well intentioned the individual in Congress may be, in the current political climate, is simply talk.

The majority of Democrats on Capitol Hill favor extending President George W. Bush-era tax cuts for everyone up to their first $250,000 income. That would save $700 billion more than the Republican Party, who favor extending tax cuts for everyone.

But who's for rolling back all the Bush-era tax cuts? That would balance the budget less interest by 2015.

If that's too drastic, given considerations for spurring economic growth, how about extending the Bush-era cuts on the first $250,000 for no more than two years?

But a judicious conversation about deficit reduction cannot be limited to the stale catchphrase of "waste, fraud and abuse." If Medicare and Social Security are not part of the discussion its meaningless.

Addressing the deficit requires sacrifice from all sectors. Everyone wants to cut someone else's program, but few are offering to cut their pet projects. Are military hawks willing to cut defense? Where's the momentum to raise the age requirement on Social Security?

Deficits are an abstraction that for the time being offer no tangible pain. For this reason, one can borrow money to fund the two wars -- unprecedented in U.S. history -- and pay no political price because irresponsibly increasing the deficit for future generations to pay is still preferred to a tax increase today.

But something must give, be it tax cuts or increased spending, we have reached the point where offering anything that expands the deficit is fiscally immoral.

If part of our mission statement, as stated in the preamble of the Constitution, "to promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity," our current fiscal path promotes the exact opposite for future generations.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at byron@byronspeaks.com or visit his Web site byronspeaks.com.

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