First, the simple truth: The United States federal government is spending much, much more than it brings-in. There are two basic approaches to fixing this. First, we can reduce the level of federal spending to match current and projected tax income. Second, we can increase taxes [drastically] to pay for the current level of government spending. (And, of course, there is a spectrum of options in-between that mix the two approaches.)
So far, President Barack Obama (D) and the Democratic Party have said they favor a ‘balanced approach’ of tax increases and spending cuts, but they have, in reality, not proposed any actual spending cuts whatsoever. They have only proposed reducing the expected increases in the federal budget over the next decade. Imagine that your annual cost of living is $100,000, even though you only make $75,000 per year. You already expect your costs to increase to $125,000 next year. The Democrats propose spending $115,000 next year instead, and then proudly tell the public that they’ve cut $10,000 from the budget. Except that’s not a ‘cut.’ They’re still planning to spend $15,000 more than what they’re spending today. They also have a plan to increase income to $80,000 though, so that mitigates the impending disaster . . . slightly.
You might think that the Republican Party has a better plan. If we continue with our example, the Republicans plan to spend $105,000 next year and keep our income flat at $75,000. Like the Democrats, the Republicans lie through their teeth and say they’ve proposed cutting $20,000 from the federal budget. In truth, they’re still proposing deficits as far as the eye can see, and they’re still proposing actual increases (not reductions) in federal spending. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): the two parties are fighting to the death over how to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.
If I had to pick one, I’ll take the Republican plan . . . because I, along with the 2009 version of President Obama, think tax increases in this economic environment are idiotic. “The last thing you want to do is raise taxes in the middle of a recession because that would just . . . take more demand out of the economy and put business further in a hole.” Regardless, both plans are national suicide in the long run. I don’t really care very much who ‘wins,’ since we all lose either way.
And the American public seems content to just sit back and let their government spiral into insolvency. Nobody seems to be demanding real change. Nobody seems to be demanding balanced budgets. Nobody wants their taxes to go up, but nobody wants to sacrifice any government services either. We all want to have our cake and eat it too. Somebody else will pay for it, right? Well, eventually, there isn’t anybody else.
Listen to all the hoopla about the budget ‘sequestration’ (automatic cuts) scheduled to go into effect later this week. To hear our politicos explain it, it’s the end of the world. Billions of teachers will be fired, Russia will launch its nukes, al-Qaeda will take over the Department of Transportation, and some cute little kitty cats are going to get run over by a bus if Congress doesn’t act now to keep our massive deficits intact! Never mind that we’re only talking about a mere fraction of the cuts that we would need to make to actually, you know, balance the budget.
So what do we do?
We need to demonstrate to the American people, clearly and simply, what their options are . . . and then give them a way to pick the one they like best. All the scare-mongering about ‘sequestration,’ nonsense about ‘cuts’ that aren’t really cuts, and class warfare rhetoric about making the ‘rich’ bail us out isn’t getting us anywhere. So here’s what I propose: a six-month balanced budget plan. It comes in three parts: First, demonstrate the options. Second, hold a national referendum. Third, implement the option that the people choose.
For the first month, the United States federal government will only spend what it makes in an average month. Services will be cut. Employees with be furloughed. Pay-outs to state and local governments will drop accordingly. We will see, in a very real way, what level of government we are actually paying for and what we’ll lose if the feds have to live within their means. This is ‘option A.’
For the second month, the United States federal government will implement across-the-board tax increases to increase federal revenue high enough to pay for a month of government services at their present level. We will see, in a very real way (on our pay stubs), what the present level of government will actually cost us. This is ‘option B.’
For the third month, the United States federal government will increase taxes to cover exactly half of the average monthly deficit, and reduce costs to cover exactly the other half. We will see what the ‘balanced approach’ that President Obama keeps talking about (but doesn’t have the guts to actually implement) would entail. This is ‘option C.’
This three-month process concludes the first part of the plan. The American people will now know what options are on the table—they will have lived each one for a month. Yeah, I know, none of these options is particularly appealing. So be it. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and these are the only possible solutions that will actually ensure our long-term national solvency. Try each one out, and decide which one sucks the least.
In the fourth month, a national referendum will be held and the voters will have the option to choose A, B, or C. The winning option will need to garner a fifty-percent majority vote. If no option reaches a majority on the first ballot, a run-off will be held between the leading two options in the fifth month. And in the sixth month, the winning option is implemented, and we go about our lives with a government living within its means (one way or another) . . . at least until they screw it all up again.
Or we could just pretend everything’s fine and keep doing what we’re doing. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “America can’t collapse. We’re as powerful as Ancient Rome.”