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It’s a new year, and thus, time for a fresh start. This is as true for the federal government as it is for any individual. The 112th Congress, the president and both parties face daunting challenges in both the domestic and international arenas in 2011. Two months ago, voters overwhelmingly delivered the message that they want elected officials to approach these problems from a new direction. Whether the president is emotionally or ideologically capable of executing such a pivot remains to be seen. It appears that if anyone is going to put the nation back on a more sensible course, it’s going to have to be Congress. That, in turn, means that our senators and representatives need to remember why they were elected and what they are supposed to accomplish. Here are just a few suggestions:
Stick to Your Diet
We’ve heard a lot of noise about the need for spending cuts from both sides of the aisle lately. Talking about spending cuts is now all the rage, but we’ve yet to see the rhetoric turn into action. The lame duck Congress’ deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts contained “stealth stimulus” spending that many believe made the bill more of a victory for Obama and his love affair with Keynesian economics than it was for conservative, supply-side economics. The 112th Congress must take a much harder line that we have ever seen before when it comes to federal spending. That’s not going to be easy, for maintaining the strict discipline needed to make a diet of any kind work is a tough job, but that’s particularly true when the diet plan is of the fiscal variety and thus involves various kinds of politicians and many different cuts of pork.
By now, it should be obvious to everyone this side of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi that America doesn’t want any more “stimulus” spending, because the only part of the economy stimulated by running up trillions more in debt involves the people who supply the paper and ink necessary to keep the presses of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing churning out fresh dollar bills. The tougher part of this resolution will be to avoid the kind of “fiscal snacks” that will inevitably undermine the entire diet. A billion or two for an earmark here or an earmark there really doesn’t count for a lot when compared to a national debt that’s rapidly approaching $14 trillion, but those sort of politically-motivated, self-serving expenditures are precisely what will undermine the discipline that Washington needs if big government is ever going to wean itself from its spending addiction.
Brave the Third Rail
When we talk about addressing America’s growing debt crisis, we’re really talking about entitlements. Congress can address every other part of the budget and it can cut spending in those discretionary areas to the bone, but unless it deals effectively with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, nothing really matters. Today, spending on those entitlement programs consumes about twenty per cent of the economy. If left unchecked, the spending on the “big three” entitlements will rise to thirty per cent of GDP by 2033. That rate of spending is simply unsustainable and entirely incompatible with the maintenance of a free market economy.
As wildly unpopular as any attempts to reform entitlement programs will be, such actions are vitally necessary if America is going to remain the strong, effective and prosperous leader of the free world. Both parties should approach this issue in the same manner that they have traditionally made vital decisions when America was in danger during wartime: without regard for political gamesmanship or re-election prospects. A truly bi-partisan solution to the entitlement problem is needed now, more than ever. If that is to happen, Republicans will have to forgo the temptation to shout “we told you so” across the aisle. On the other hand, enough Democrats must be found who care more for their nation’s future than they do for the leftist rhetoric of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. If Democrats and Republicans truly care about America’s future, they should declare that the issue of entitlement reform is effectively a “politically demilitarized zone” in which neither party will try to make political hay.
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