Debt Reduction: Bowles & Simpson Have it Right – Redux!

July 22, 2011

G’Day!

On April 1, I posted the article, “Bowles & Simpson Have it Right!”, suggesting that the Bowles-Simpson Debt Reduction Commission’s proposal was a good solution to our country’s deficit and debt crises. Subsequent articles have repeatedly referred to this proposal as a reasonable bipartisan way to address our federal fiscal problems, especially long-term debt, (see “Obama Ignores Bowles-Simpson Debt Reduction Commission – AGAIN!”, “Is Obama Really Serious about Debt Reduction?”, “Fiscal and Debt Crises – Tax Reform Essential!”). Approximately eight months after publishing the Commission’s preliminary report and 5 months after formal submission to President Obama, the “Gang of Six” in the Senate finally appears to be considering it. Perhaps there is some intelligent life in Washington after all. I hope so.

To resolve our unsustainable deficit and debt crises, we need significant comprehensive changes to improve revenues through comprehensive tax reform, to reduce discretionary spending including defense, and reduction/reform in entitlement programs for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. All of these reforms: taxation, government spending, and entitlements, are essential to a comprehensive solution for our country’s problems and ALL must be addressed if we are to succeed.

Bowles-Simpson, which is still an appropriate bipartisan starting point, addresses all of these issues and was approved by 61% of the commission members. I hope it now gets the attention it deserves. The “Gang of Six” and Bowles-Simpson have identified nearly $4 Trillion in deficit reductions over ten years with an immediate reduction of $500 Billion. Both plans rely on government spending cuts and tax reform to lower tax rates, broaden the tax base, and increase tax revenues. These are all good initial actions and I would also suggest the addition of the House “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, which specifically “Caps” government spending relative to GDP and includes a “Balanced Budget Amendment” provision to insure that our government performs its future fiscal requirements in a responsible way. Currently, polls indicate that over two-thirds of the American people want a “Balanced Budget Amendment” and do not want a further increase in our National Debt. Now is an appropriate time to deal with these issues to insure not only our own future but also more importantly, the future of our children.

If Congress and the President had seriously considered Bowles-Simpson earlier in the year, the debt crisis could already be resolved. We must bring responsibility to the country back into our government and significantly reduce its size.

The Old Guy PhD

Note: The original Bowles-Simpson article with “links” is repeated below for those who missed it.

Bowles & Simpson Have it Right!

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.

  1. Pass tax reform that dramatically reduces rates, simplifies the code, broadens the base, and reduces the deficit.
  2. 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.
  3. Achieve mandatory savings from farm subsidies, military and civil service retirement.
  4. 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


Government Shutdown, Who’s to Blame?

April 7, 2011

G’Day!

Our federal government is facing the distinct possibility of a shutdown this week. If the government is shut down, President Obama and the Democrats will have no one to blame for the crisis other than themselves.

Last year Obama and the Democrats devoted their time and effort on passing an ill-advised and budget-busting healthcare bill, which added significantly to an already unsustainable debt problem for our country. During this same period, President Obama and the Democrats, with total control of Congress and the Administration did not even pass a budget for our current 2011 Federal Fiscal Year!! This is not leadership and represents a total disregard of their responsibility to our country. If Obama and Democrats had performed their duties to the American people last year, the current budget crisis would have been avoided and there would be no possibility of a government shut down this week. They have NOT performed responsibly and did not fulfill their obligations to the nation.

As bad as last year’s performance was, it is now history and must be corrected by the new Congress with the old President. So, what has happened in 2011 to handle the current Democrat-created budget crisis? The new Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill over 40 days ago repealing the Obamacare healthcare fiscal disaster, passed a bill calling for only $61 billion in spending reductions this year (approximately 6 days of government spending, see “Is Our Government Broken?”), agreed to Continuing Resolutions to keep our government functioning until April 8, and have just proposed another Continuing Resolution to avoid a government shutdown.

On the Democrat’s side, Obama submitted his 2012 Budget to Congress (an irresponsible fiscal and debt-busting budget disaster), which ADDS an expected $1.6 trillion to the deficit next year and $7.2 trillion over the next 10 years (see “Is Our Government Broken?”). The President’s 2012 Budget Proposal includes NONE of the suggestions from the Bowles-Simpson Debt Reduction Commission Proposal submitted in December, (see “Bowles & Simpson Have it Right!”). Until this week when, at the 12th hour, he finally called Congressional Leaders together, Obama has been absent from the process of resolving this critical problem. Even the Democrats have complained about his lack of leadership on this issue. In addition, Obama has rejected the current Republican’s proposal for another Continuing Resolution beyond April 8. Obama has, however, found sufficient time during the first 3 months of 2011 to engage in golf, political speeches and fundraisers, and “Presidential Tourism”, while displaying a remarkable lack of leadership in the various Middle East crises, especially Libya. For their part, the Democrats in the Senate have failed to pass ANY bills regarding the budget problem, have stifled any progress on legislation to resolve it, and have engaged in political posturing by persistently blaming Republicans, especially the “Tea Party”, for the stalemate. Specifically, they did initially offer $10 billion in spending reductions this year (1 day’s government spending) and, reportedly are now offering a “non-specific” reduction of $33 billion (3 day’s government spending). It is important to repeat that the Senate, under the direction of Harry Reid (D-NV), has FAILED TO PASS a single piece of legislation on this year’s budget issue except the Continuing Resolutions, which end April 8. The House, under the direction of John Boehner (R-OH), passed legislation over 40 days ago.

It seems absolutely clear that President Obama and the Congressional Democrats are not serious about resolving the issue of this year’s spending and resolving the limit on our National Debt. My suspicions are they want a government shutdown and expect the Republicans will get the blame. I believe the history and facts are clear, if non-essential government services are forced to close, President Obama and Democrats in the Senate are fully responsible for the closure. I also believe that the American people are sufficiently intelligent and informed to recognize this and will properly hold President Obama and the Democratic Party accountable at the next election in 2012.

Frankly, as I have said before, other than national defense and essential services, shutting down the Federal Government might be a good thing. Certainly our government is too big and its growth, especially under Obama and the Democrats, is out of control. If all “non-essential” government workers were furloughed, we should have a clear indication of what size our government should be. By definition, “non-essential” means unnecessary. A case can always be made for “desirable” but “unnecessary” services. The key is the cost to the American taxpayer of the “desirable” service provided. The American people cannot afford to pay for every “desirable” idea and should not be forced to do so through taxation.

“Big Government Is Our Problem” and we MUST stop its growth and reduce its size. We need to return to our nation’s principles of free markets, sound fiscal and monetary policy, and limited government. Let’s elect national and state leaders that support these views.

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