Bowles & Simpson Have it Right!

April 1, 2011

G’Day!

In my previous posts, “Big Government IS Our Problem” and “Is Our Government Broken”, I laid out the current and projected fiscal and debt problems facing our nation and argued that significant contraction in government spending is immediately essential. Also essential is tax reform. Our taxes MUST be simplified, the tax base broadened, and tax rates reduced (especially business taxes), if we are to be able to compete in a global economy.

The Debt Reduction Commission’s “Co-Chair’s Proposal” released in December 2010 by the Co-Chairs, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson and submitted to the President in February 2011, is an excellent and understandable overview of the recommendations, which, with minor modification, were approved by 11 of the 18 bipartisan members (61% approval) in December 2010. Unfortunately, the final vote fell short of the 14 votes necessary for the “Supermajority” needed to directly submit the recommendations to Congress. While the Co-Chair’s Draft Proposal differs slightly from the final report submitted to the President, it is worth reviewing for its importance, focus, clarity, and brevity. They have done an excellent job and their proposal deserves the immediate attention of the President and Congress. While no one will be fully happy with all of the commission’s proposals, rational behavior combined with cooperation and compromise by our elected government is necessary if we are to remain a solvent and great nation. The time for government to act is NOW!

The bipartisan Debt Reduction Commission worked from April – December 2010 to develop and present overall comprehensive recommendations to solve our country’s short and long term fiscal and debt crises. They have done their work well. The report addresses all the necessary areas required to resolve the issues including setting out ten (10) objectives, “Guiding Principles and Values”, beginning with “#1-We have a patriotic duty to come together on a plan that will make America better off tomorrow than it is today”; and “#2-The Problem is REAL – the Solution is Painful – There’s no Easy Way Out – Everything Must Be On the Table – and Washington Must Lead”. The other 8 can be read by clicking the link in paragraph above. After establishing the Guiding Principles, the following comprehensive “Five Part Plan” is recommended:

  1. Enact tough discretionary spending caps and provide $200 billion in illustrative domestic and defense savings in 2015.
  2. Pass tax reform that dramatically reduces rates, simplifies the code, broadens the base, and reduces the deficit.
  3. Address the “Doc Fix” not through deficit spending but through savings from payment reforms, cost-sharing, and malpractice reform, and long-term measures to control health care cost growth.
  4. Achieve mandatory savings from farm subsidies, military and civil service retirement.
  5. Ensure Social Security solvency for the next 75 years while reducing poverty among seniors.

Implementation of the comprehensive Five Part Plan is projected to achieve nearly $4 trillion in deficit reduction through 2020, in addition to other specific improvements in debt and budget reductions summarized below:

  • Achieves nearly $4 trillion in deficit reduction through 2020: 50+ specific ways to cut outdated programs and strengthen competitiveness by making Washington cut and invest, not borrow and spend.
  • Reduces the deficit to 2.2% of GDP by 2015, exceeding President’s goal of primary balance (about 3% of GDP).
  • Reduces tax rates, abolishes the AMT, and cuts backdoor spending in the tax code.
  • Caps revenue at or below 21% of GDP and gets spending down to 22% and eventually to 21%.
  • Stabilizes debt by 2014 and reduces debt to 60% of GDP by 2024 and 40% by 2037.
  • Ensures lasting Social Security solvency, prevents projected 22% cuts in 2037, reduces elderly poverty, and distributes burden fairly.

The proposal outlines how to achieve the above results through specific recommended actions to improve revenues through “Comprehensive Tax Reform” alternatives, to reduce spending through “Discretionary Budget Options” including Defense cuts, reductions for entitlement programs through “Mandatory Budget Options” for healthcare and “Reforming Social Security”. All of these reforms: taxation, government spending, entitlements for healthcare and social security, are essential to a comprehensive solution for our country’s problems and all must be addressed if we are to succeed.

The Co-Chair’s Proposal is controversial but responsible, realistic, and deserves the serious consideration of the President and Congress, who are currently engaged in irrelevant political bickering over trivial spending cuts instead of the substantive fiscal and debt problems we face. Congress and the President should get together, agree on or revise as appropriate the “Guiding Principles and Values” above, and start to work for the American people and our country. Political posturing for re-election is NOT a valid course of action.

Currently, neither the Congress nor the President is addressing our fiscal and debt crises with any sense of urgency. The President and the Democrats are not only totally ignoring the problem but are fighting to avoid even minimal reductions from the inflated budget spending of the last 2-3 years. Federal Budget inflation nearly tripled our federal deficit from $0.459 trillion in 2008 to $1.3 trillion in 2010 and is expected to increase again to $1.7 trillion this fiscal year. Obama’s recent budget proposal for 2012 continues spending at $3.7 trillion and the deficit at $1.6 trillion. Additionally, Obama’s new budget projects a further cumulative deficit of $7.2 trillion for the next ten years – bringing our debt to approximately $22 trillion! This is not leadership; it is madness! Only the Republicans are even attempting to address the issue and, to date, their proposals are woefully inadequate. To be fair, the House Republicans through Representative Paul Ryan are promising to present a comprehensive budget in April that does address the looming long-term catastrophe we face. I hope they deliver.

Given the magnitude of our fiscal and debt problems, the current congressional squabbling is an inappropriate distraction from solving the overall crises facing our nation! Without an agreement on debt limits and/or spending cuts by April 8, our government may shut down. As noted in “Is Our Government Broken”, except for national security and some essential services, shutting down might actually be a good thing. Our government is too big, too irresponsible, and too self-centered. Can’t our Congress or Administration do math?

Where is President Obama’s leadership in all of this? Actually, at the time of this writing he’s currently travelling again and making speeches at a Democratic Party Fundraiser – big surprise. As usual, when leadership and responsibility for our country are required, Obama is absent. Last week with a national debt deadline imminent, Congress took a week off rather than stay in session to attempt to resolve the current national debt limit issue. Brilliant! Our elected representatives need to make financial solvency and economic growth a priority and get to work NOW!

We are on unsustainable fiscal and debt crises that, if not corrected quickly, will lead to potential financial and economic disaster for our country. Our government is oppressive and out of control, its growth must be stopped, and its intrusion in our lives and businesses reversed. We MUST maintain the entrepreneurial spirit necessary for economic growth and global competitiveness. We need to bring back the constitutional freedoms and personal liberties that led us to become the greatest nation on earth. Our government should immediately take up the Bowles-Simpson Co-Chairs’ Proposal.

The Old Guy PhD

 


Is Obama Our Worst President or Just the Weakest?

March 24, 2011

G’Day!

While I did not vote for Obama, I did have great hope for his presidency. Even though I believed him to be too inexperienced and unqualified to be President, his slogan, “Yes we can!” combined with his soaring rhetoric was inspiring and motivating. Unfortunately, my initial fears have been realized. Perhaps Anna Pukas said it best in her recent article, “Barack Obama: The Weakest President in History?” when she described him as “INEFFECTUAL, invisible, unable to honour pledges and now blamed for letting Gaddafi off the hook. Why Obama’s gone from ‘Yes we can’ to ‘Er, maybe we shouldn’t…” To Anna Pukas’ observations, I would add aloof, elitist, and indecisive.

It is actually too early to tell if the outcomes from the legislation of the Obama government will make him our worst President but current and future implications for the massive increase in big government socialism, continuing fiscal catastrophe, unsustainable levels of debt, and diminished international respect for the United States around the world, clearly make him a contender. More worrying is the apparent weakness and inability of President Obama to accept leadership and responsibility for the direction of our country. His ambivalence as a leader and his priority with the “perks” instead of the responsibilities of his office are unprecedented in our current time of crisis. In issue after issue he has withdrawn from the actual decision-making process and, during his first two years in office, deferred to Congress or leaders in other countries to set our government’s goals and priorities. Besides golf (60+ times since taking office, I’m retired and haven’t been able to play that much), political speeches, extensive travel, and a totally unearned Nobel Peace Prize, he has largely been an observer on domestic and international issues. Professor Peter Morici recently indicated on national television, Obama appears to be more interested in “Presidential Tourism” than in dealing with the critical issues facing our nation. Virtually all Presidents in at least the last century have been strong leaders. Some of their actions have been right and some have been wrong but they were willing to take responsibility and actually lead our country. Perhaps Harry Truman expressed it best when he said, “The Buck Stops Here!” With Obama, “The Buck Starts Here!”

We were warned by Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primary Campaign that Obama, while in the Illinois legislature, declined to take a position on issues by voting “Present” (neither yes nor no) 129 times. While in his partial term in the US Senate, he missed roll call 314 times (24%). These should have been indications of his personal lack of commitment and inability to take a position on legislation. Since becoming President, Obama has essentially been a pitchman for the Democrats, notably the unions, and has punted important domestic decisions (Stimulus, Healthcare, Financial Reform, Federal Budgets, and National Debt) to the Democratically-controlled House and Senate and international decisions to the State Department and foreign leaders. With foreign leaders he has been persistently weak and apologetic concerning America’s historical role in fighting for and defending freedom, democracy and US international interests. He has consistently been indecisive and ambivalent in dealing with China, Russia, Iran, the Middle East, and now Libya.

In responding to the current Libyan crisis, he has dithered and deferred to the leadership of Britain, France, and the Arab League and has now bypassed Congress (perhaps illegally) and subordinated US national interests to the UN Security Council for the current military actions. All this while he and his entire family engaged in “Presidential Tourism” to South and Central America. At the time of this writing, our US policy on Libya is a confused mess. Obama has no clear long-term objectives and he has still not addressed the nation or properly communicated to Congress a coherent government plan. Astonishingly, Obama’s currently stated goal for Libya is to WITHDRAW US military authority over the actions in Libya, pass command to “somebody else”, and voluntarily abandon American leadership in a time of international crisis. He appears to be willing to give command and control over our military to unknown foreign powers “to be determined”! This is another example of Obama’s avoidance of responsibility and lack of strength. Unfortunately, his weakness as a leader and lack of belief in the greatness, strength, and historical contribution of America in the world, has undermined our international stature in the world and created a power vacuum that other nations are trying to fill. Even our long-time allies have been embarrassed by his deference and obeisance to the leaders of problem nations. Remember Obama “bowing” to the King of Saudi Arabia and cancelling President Bush’s Anti-ballistic-missile Defense Shield for Central Europe when challenged by Russia. These are not the actions of the President of the World’s greatest nation.

I don’t know if Obama will turn out to be our worst President but he doesn’t look good and the future of our country is in peril on many fronts, especially our fiscal and debt crises and our foreign policy. I do believe that what little political conviction he has is directed toward expanding socialist government, reducing personal freedoms, and exercising more control over our lives (see “Big Government IS Our Problem!”). This is not good! I am also very sorry to say that I believe that Obama IS our weakest President in at least the last century and has not demonstrated the personal strength to handle the conflicts and confrontations that are a necessary consequence of the domestic and international issues confronting America. This is very unfortunate given the variety of crises we face. Fortunately, the November elections gave control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans. This, at minimum, will halt the growth of collectivist government for the next two years.

Our nation was founded on constitutionally protected principles of individual freedoms, free markets, and limited government. Let’s stop the rot, get back to our roots, and reverse the trend as soon as possible.

The Old Guy PhD

 


Is Our Government Broken?

March 16, 2011

G’Day!

Yes, our government is currently broken and it needs to GET TO WORK! The events taking place in our national government and some states do not represent the principles of elected representative government upon which America was founded. We elected our officials to serve the needs of the people, not the desires of their political party, big business, or unions.

President Obama, both Democrat and Republican Congressional Representatives and Senators (with minor exceptions) are not currently working for the long-term benefit of America. Nearly all are posturing and working for what they perceive as the good of their political party and personal reelection. Citizens have common sense and know that we have fiscal and debt crises that are too large and unsustainable. We must get our State and Federal Governments in order.

Our overall national debt is currently $14.2 trillion and growing. It is nearly the size of our annual GDP.  Disturbingly, over $1 trillion of this debt is held by China, not our most reliable or friendly partner. Our fiscal deficit in 2008 was $0.459 trillion, by 2010 it nearly tripled to $1.3 trillion, and the expected deficit in 2011 is $1.7 trillion. Additionally, we currently have unfunded “entitlement” liabilities for Social Security of $14.8 trillion, Prescription Drugs of $19.6 trillion, & Medicare of $78.1 trillion. This is a total current obligation for future generations of $112.5 trillion, nearly 8 times our total annual output and just over $1.0 MILLION per current taxpayer. This is madness and is crippling our economy and economic growth.

We actually have NO FEDERAL BUDGET for 2011! Obama’s unapproved 2011 “budget” is expected to reach $3.7 trillion this year. This amounts to $10.1 BILLION PER DAY. In the current congressional debate concerning raising the debt ceiling, Democrats have offered  “real” cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year of $10 billion (1 day’s spending) and the Republicans are offering approximately $60 billion (only 6 day’s spending). Neither proposal even remotely addresses the magnitude of our problem. If agreement can’t be reached in Congress, the Federal Government may be forced to shut down. Frankly, except for national security and some essential services, this might actually be a good thing. Our government is too big, too irresponsible, and too self-oriented. Can you imagine what the Founding Fathers would think of what is happening in our government today? A temporary shut down might force us to be more responsible and self-reliant, as the founders of our nation and our Constitution intended.

As noted, the magnitude of our nation’s financial problem is enormous, increasing, and untenable! So what is our government doing to correct the crisis? Last year, the Democrats, who controlled the Administration, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, failed to even pass a Federal Budget for fiscal 2011. They were, however, able to compound our future fiscal and debt problems by passing a massive and unpopular healthcare bill and a financial reform bill, both of which further increase the size of government, with more regulations and control over important sectors of our lives. This legislation further erodes our liberties and free-market economy. Do we really want to become a collectivist country with the government dictating our lives?

For his part, President Obama has virtually abdicated all leadership in this crisis by proposing a new budget for next year projecting spending of another $3.7 trillion and an addition to the deficit of $1.6 trillion. Over the next 10 years the new Obama budget proposal is expected to produce a further cumulative deficit of $7.2 trillion, bringing our overall national debt to approximately $22 trillion. President Obama is spending (pun intended) his time travelling, golfing, and giving political speeches; and his proposed budget is an embarrassment given the magnitude of our country’s ongoing financial problems.

In Congress only the Republicans are even attempting to deal with the fiscal and debt problem and so far they are dealing with trivial, not real spending or fiscal reform (although it is promised). The Democrats are essentially ignoring the problem and blocking even the inconsequential cuts proposed by Republicans for the remainder of this year (see above). When real leadership is essential, Obama and Congress have abdicated their responsibility to the nation and chosen posturing and rhetoric over work and accomplishment for the American people.

At the State level a few Governors are trying to deal with similar budget issues, but some Democrats have deserted their State Houses and fled their elected responsibilities (see “State Democrats Shun Democratic Process!”). Unions are sponsoring demonstrations in several states, which are disrupting our democratic processes and interfering with the ability of our democratically elected representatives (when present) to perform their legislative duties. This is a travesty and is not the way our democracy is intended to work.

Yes, our government is currently broken and it’s time to get to work. What should they be doing? First, after quickly resolving the ridiculous political stalemate over the debt limit and budget for the rest of this year, they should NOT make the fiscal situation worse and the government’s out-of-control spending and inefficiencies should be eliminated as soon as possible. The GAO report “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” has already identified unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation existing across our Federal Government totaling BILLIONS of dollars in ANNUAL SAVINGS. This is a good place to start.

Second, they should employ proven strategic management techniques. Any basic management course indicates that solving problems and capturing opportunities requires: setting long-term goals, reviewing historical performance to identify strengths and weaknesses, identifying and prioritizing alternative “comprehensive” solutions, acting on the best “comprehensive” solutions, and measuring and correcting course to improve performance. Our government needs to follow this agenda. The Bowles-Simpson, Co-Chairs Draft Report, “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility”, is a reasonable draft proposal for identifying and establishing these goals and actions (some painful) to resolve the long-term financial crisis we face as a nation. It addresses all areas of government including its size, spending, and revenues and suggests major reform in income taxation and entitlement programs. This is also a good place to start. To date, neither President Obama nor Congress appears to be seriously considering the information and recommendations in either report.

“Big Government is Our Problem”! Let’s fix it and put our country back on a solid foundation with individual freedom, free markets, sound fiscal and monetary policy, economic growth, and limited government!

The Old Guy PhD

 


Big Government IS Our Problem!

February 11, 2011

G’Day!

President Reagan was right! Big government IS our problem. Many of you are justified in your frustration with government for its increasing size, spending, regulation, and control over our lives. Left unchecked (pun intended), our individual freedoms, ability as a nation to innovate, and competitiveness in the global economy will continue to be eroded. If government would get out of the way, business would improve, jobs would be created, and the country would prosper. Reforming both personal and business income taxes is also required and would further stimulate growth and job creation. Taxes will be the subject of future posts on this site.

The magnitude of our nation’s financial problem is enormous and growing! We anticipate a fiscal deficit of $1.6 trillion in 2011 and President Obama’s budget proposal for 2012 projects a further deficit of $1.1 trillion. Over the next 10 years the new Obama budget proposal projects a cumulative deficit of $7.2 trillion. Additionally, we currently have an overall national debt in excess of $14 trillion, nearly the size of our annual GDP, and according to the National Debt Clock, have unfunded “entitlement” liabilities for Social Security of $14.8 trillion, Prescription Drugs of $19.6 trillion, & Medicare of $78.1 trillion. This is a current total obligation for future generations of $112.5 trillion, nearly 8 times our total annual output and just over $1.0 MILLION per current taxpayer. This is madness and is unsustainable for our economy.

President Obama has impressive rhetoric, but his new “centrist” oratory is unconvincing and inconsistent with the actions of his administration. He has a very different view for the future of our government than I. Obama’s actions indicate the socialist belief that BIG government is the answer to most, if not all, issues. He is converting our personal freedoms and free market economy into a European-style collectivist society with strong central governmental control over our lives and appears to believe that central government can make better decisions for individuals than individuals can make for themselves in a free society. This is a dangerous trend toward expanded central planning and is not the constitutional basis for liberty upon which the Founding Fathers established our great nation. Oddly enough, Obama’s action is taking place at a time when the major European nations are moving in the opposite direction toward American ideals. I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Government should only do for the people what the people cannot do for themselves.” I fully agree.

If the current administration is not stopped, America’s freedoms, spirit of entrepreneurship, & economic strength could be set back for years and probably permanently diminished. Much has already been initiated with the new legislation for healthcare and financial reform. Both of these new acts add too much central governmental control over crucial industries and need to be repealed or modified to conform to the principles of our free market economy. Future posts will also explore these two subjects in more detail.

America is on an unfavorable and unsustainable course, which must be changed or we face extremely serious consequences for our economy and our freedoms. Ronald Reagan was right (additional pun intended) when he said the 9 scariest words are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” It is time for us to take back our country.

Big government IS the problem; freedom is the answer.

The Old Guy PhD