My column this week points out that Sen. John Boozman and Sen. Mark Pryor did something seemingly rare this past week for a Republican and Democrat: They agreed on something.
The two Arkansas senators introduced the Safe Roads Act, which would create a nationwide database for truck drivers with drug and alcohol violations. Currently, trucking companies must rely on those drivers to self-report their violations when they hire them – which they don’t always do.
My point: If the two senators can agree on this relatively minor piece of legislation, can they work together to balance the federal budget? They had better, for the good of us all.
It looks like Washington Democrats are going to follow a tired, familiar, and, unfortunately, often effective script.
This is what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told a crowd rounded up in Washington yesterday:
“Let’s worry about Social Security when it’s a problem. Today it’s not a problem.”
Where to begin? First, let’s tackle Reid’s logic. Waiting for something to become a problem is the wrong way to govern one’s life, much less a country. How about, “Let’s worry about your circulatory system when you are having a heart attack. Today you are not having a heart attack.” I wonder if Reid would say we should not worry about climate change yet.
Second, Reid’s facts are wrong. There IS a problem with Social Security – now. The system is already paying out more in benefits than it takes in, and that’s before this year’s cuts in FICA taxes enacted by President Obama and Congress last year. Reid is arguing that Social Security’s trust fund won’t run dry for decades, and that would be true if there actually was a trust fund. The truth is, that fund is completely empty because Congress has been raiding it to pay for other programs all these years. It’s just a bunch of IOUs from the rest of the government, which is completely broke.
So now we get to watch as Democrats, stung by last year’s defeats, try to scare seniors and kick this can down the road another couple of decades. Will it work? It has in the past.
You can hear Reid’s remarks here in this report on NPR.
Arkansas’ newly elected senator, John Boozman, made his maiden speech – his first one, in other words – on the Senate floor today.
In it, he identifies the national debt as the greatest threat facing Americans today.
He said, “We cannot continue to add billions to our already staggering national debt. This year alone, the federal government will spend $3.7 trillion while only collecting $2.2 trillion. It doesn’t take an advanced math degree to understand that 3 is greater than 2.
“The average American family doesn’t have the luxury to spend beyond its means. Their government shouldn’t, and doesn’t, either. ”
Right on. Unfortunately, here is the eye doctor’s primary prescription – a balanced budget amendment.
“The only way will we get a handle on this situation is to reform the manner in which we budget and allocate federal dollars. It’s time we put mechanisms in place to stop the government from spending beyond its means.
“This is why one of the first bills I signed my name onto after taking the oath of office was Senator Richard Shelby’s balanced budget amendment. Senator Shelby has been a champion on this front for a number of years, introducing this bill every session of Congress since 1987. Imagine what the country would look like if it had passed when he first proposed it. Now, more than ever, it is an idea that’s time has come and I look forward to working with the Senator from Alabama to get some sort of spending cap like a balanced budget amendment passed.
“This is a catalyst for change. It holds us to spending limits and forces changes in the manner in which taxpayer money is allocated.”
No, it doesn’t. It just means Congress would have to work harder to find ways around the law to keep spending money the country doesn’t have.
The only way to address what Sen. Boozman calls the country’s greatest threat is for Congress to spend less in areas where it doesn’t want to spend less – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the military. That’s where the money is.
Sen. Boozman did not address those issues, but that’s OK for now. At least he has correctly identified the problem. Now let’s encourage him to work on the solutions.
Senator Pryor again mentioned the “S” word – “sacrifice,” this time in a conference call with reporters. Here is the story.
That’s twice in recent days he has been telling Americans what they need to hear – that balancing the budget will be painful, that we can’t have our cake and eat it too.
I wrote an extra column for Arkansas News Bureau Sunday. Jason Tolbert, who usually has that space, is busy with his day job as a CPA and needed a break. My column praised Mark Pryor for telling the Little Rock Rotary Club that something has to be done about Social Security and Medicare. Here it is.
It takes political courage to mention Social Security and Medicare because the issue is so easily demagogued and misunderstood. Two readers emailed me: one accusing me of wanting to “get rid” of Social Security, the other from a senior citizen who (correctly) pointed out that he has paid payroll taxes all of his life and (incorrectly) that other areas, such as congressional salaries, are where the real cuts need to be made. That’s pennies. You have to cut Social Security and Medicare – not for current recipients, but for future ones like me – because that is where the money is. According to the Debt Commission, ALL projected tax revenues will cover only Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the national debt by 2025.
That means you have to cut everything else completely, including national defense and highway construction, in order to balance the budget. Or we could raise taxes far higher than they are now. Or we could just keep borrowing from China until it takes us over.
The other choice is to have a mature conversation about Social Security and Medicare and then come up with a responsible plan.
The Senate voted to repeal DADT Saturday, with both Sen. Pryor and Sen. Lincoln voting yes. The bill now goes to President Obama because the House has already voted for repeal. In Arkansas, Rep. Snyder voted for repeal while Reps. Boozman and Rep. Ross voted not. Rep. Berry, who apparently has checked out of his office early, did not vote.
My position on DADT has been pretty firm: This should be primarily a military issue and not a moral/social one. If the military supports the ban, uphold it. If the military supports repeal, repeal it. It’s hypocritical and cowardly for the rest of us to dictate this policy from our air-conditioned ivory white towers.
That said, I don’t think the military has come to enough of a consensus to warrant a change. The Marine Corps is definitely against it. Moreover, Democrats should not have pushed through the matter during a lame-duck session.
That would mean that, with Republicans controlling the House, DADT would not be repealed no matter what the military wants. But the voters have spoken, and elections have consequences.
The Senate on Saturday voted down the DREAM Act, which would have granted citizenship to illegal aliens brought to the United States before age 16 as long as they serve in the military or attend college. Sen. Lincoln voted for it. Sen. Pryor voted against it.
Sixteen is a tad old for what supporters should be trying to accomplish. We should be trying to help people brought to America as young children become citizens of their homeland. A 16-year-old is not a young child.
Lower the age of eligibility to somewhere between 6 and 10 and then pass the bill.
President Obama and the Republicans have agreed to a tax cut bill because they had to, and now we’ll see if congressional Democrats agree to the deal. Media reports indicate that, in all likelihood, opponents of the plan simply don’t have the votes.
But this was no mere extension of the Bush tax credits. The deal includes a 2 percent reduction in the payroll tax that workers pay to finance Social Security. General revenues – which were $1.4 trillion in the hole this year – will supposedly make up the balance.
So we’ve exchanged using Social Security surpluses to plug part of the holes in the budget for using the budget to plug holes in Social Security. Once again, we’re compromising our future.
It never ends, does it? Until, as Greece and Ireland have found it, it has to.
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the group charged by President Obama with addressing the national debt, has released its final report, titled “The Moment of Truth.”
I haven’t had time to read the 65-page report, so I am relying on press reports. A real blogger would read the thing, and I’ll try to. My first impression is that at least they’re trying, but even their best efforts were only able to reduce the annual deficit to $279 billion by 2020. That used to be about average before we started running the $1 trillion-plus annual deficits we run now. It would mean that the cumulative national debt – the sum total of what we owe, would still increase by more than $4 trillion by 2020. It’s now nearing $14 trillion.
The good news: At least the commission talked about raising the retirement age, though VERY slowly – to 68 by 2050. Even better, it talked about creating a budget for federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Currently the government just keeps spending as long as doctors and hospitals keep billing.
It’s a start. Now we’ll see if lawmakers and President Obama keep the ball rolling or simply kick the can down the road as others have done.
To do that, they are using a little humor by creating a fictional presidential candidate, Hugh Jidette. (Get it? Huge Debt.) Jidette proudly proclaims a campaign platform based on increasing the debt we pass on to our children and grandchildren. His fictional television audience is shocked by his promise, but they shouldn’t be: That’s exactly the kind of candidate we have been electing for 30 years, except they have been less honest about it.
Will Sen. Boozman, Sen. Pryor, and Reps. Crawford, Griffin, Womack and Ross be “Hugh Jidette” supporters, or will they stand up for future generations. I’ll be watching.
Here’s one of the Hugh Jidette campaign commercials.