Suppose a family is in debt, as many American families are. Suppose most of the family's spending is necessary: mortgage payments, health insurance, gasoline, food, home repairs, and so forth. Suppose the family sits down with pen and paper and works out that it will still be in debt even if all other spending, call it discretionary (as opposed to necessary), is eliminated. Either something necessary must be cut or everyone has to get a second (or third) job. Problem is, jobs are not available.
There is a lack of integrity in the national budgeting process. Neither party will say specifically what it thinks should be cut to balance the national budget. Some, particularly Democrats, will argue that public spending is necessary to prime the pump, to employ the unemployed so that they in turn can spend money and stimulate both economic expansion and revenues (taxes).
By and large Republicans like tax cuts for the wealthy, defense spending, international military expeditions, and hiring contractors, and they dislike human assistance, entitlements, and preservation of public resources. By and large Democrats favor these things and dislike defense spending, tax cuts for those who can pay, and privitization of public responsibilities. Neither party will be specific as to how the national budget should be balanced. This is so because listing specific cuts alienates or angers particular constituencies. Better to be vague. And too many Americans want spending that benefits us but want cuts in what benefits someone else.
Current deficits are huge and, over time, unsustainable. The deep recession and two wars account for much of it. But, like our American family, much of our spending is necessary. That includes Social Security and Medicare. Some think Medicaid (health for the poor) should be dropped. But what about the FBI, interstate highways, remediation of catastrophies (Katrina, Deepwater Horizon, etc.), intelligence collection, homeland security, federal research, veterans benefits, and the list goes on. The vast majority of Americans say, yes, of course we need those. Further, the notion of "privatization", contracting out government responsibilites to private companies, is a smoke-screen. It is still federal spending, with a profit added on top.
Members of Congress of both parties would be well advised to force their constituents to confront reality. Bring pie charts and graphs of where the money goes to public meetings. Force what's left of the "responsible" media to report and editorialize on where the money goes. Bring the public into the budget business and require responsible Americans to confront three realities: government spending and the size of government do not shrink with Republican administrations; the vast majority of government spending is required for the nation to function, let alone recapture greatness; and, historically, the great spikes in the national debt have occurred in wartime.
To have faith in this country is to have faith in its people, as Jefferson believed. Given all the facts, and provided with political leadership in educating us as to the consequences of economic actions, the right decisions will ultimately be made. But honesty, even brutal honesty, is required by both leaders and citizens. Pie-in-the-sky schemes, inflated rhetoric, and bizarre economic theories must be rejected. And we must all recognize that reducing huge deficits is one thing; balancing the budget in times of economic instability is quite another.
To comment, please visit Senator Hart's blog at http://www.mattersofprinciple.com/.