One Way Out

10/18/2010 10:57 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Most economists and policy experts agree that very large federal deficits are not sustainable. The continued failure of the political system to provide a road map for reducing these deficits is taken as evidence that "government doesn't work" and an argument for less government. This is both a real and a symbolic issue.

Neither political party will offer a list of spending cuts and certainly neither will even discuss additional revenues. The easiest way to reduce deficits is for the economy to expand and provide personal and corporate revenue increases required to match spending. Very few people see this economic expansion anytime soon. In the meantime, interest on the debt is one of the largest deficit contributors.

The problem can be solved. Both parties could provide a specific list of spending cuts, including in favored programs. A panel of former political leaders, sworn to forego partisanship and ideology, could negotiate a compromise between these lists. Necessary military transformation and ideas such as a carbon tax should be on the table. A proposed balanced budget for a given year, say 2020, could be provided to Congress. And an up-or-down, no-amendment vote could be taken on this budget. Those voting no would have to account for which favored program, ear-mark, pork-barrel item they believed more important than eliminating the deficit.

As mentioned before, a process very similar to this was undertaken by Esquire magazine's Commission to Balance the Federal Budget (November issue). It worked. Social Security was preserved for decades to come. Spending and revenues were stabilized at a sound percentage of gross domestic product. The military was placed on a restructuring course and wasteful energy use reduced. You might want to look into it. It can be done.

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