Friday, July 22, 2011

Whose ox is being gored?

By Don Klein

Ever since the Tea Party has emerged as a potent force on the American political scene the focus of their attention has been to reduce governmental spending. This has led to a Republican willingness to cripple important programs to attain these goals.

Reducing government spending is an honorable goal. The United States is the world's largest debtor nation and it spends much more than it can afford. Its debt payments alone are close to half of the funds it needs to operate.

In reducing expenditures the problem arises in determining what should be cut from a budget that runs along a varied path from important humane safety net costs to immense national defense outlays.

In addition to budget cuts, the Tea Party argues against new expenditures that are not accompanied by equivalent other budget cuts. On the face of it that is not such a bad idea but when you include the demands by Republican partisans, of which most Tea Party adherents are apart, the country faces a serious dilemma.

The Republican-Tea Party position evolves into a crisis mode for the middle class taxpayer. The RTP coalition wants to cut what they call “entitlements” and refuses to consider increases in corporate or personal income taxes even when exclusively directed to the wealthy class.

They would rather load the financial burden of recovery on the backs of the lowest economic element in society by chipping away at Medicare and Social Security while shielding the most affluent in our society from any additional tax costs. It should be noted that most senators and a large number of House members are in the higher income category.

There are tons of money the government can save if they really wanted to. First of all, you might ask why we are still in Iraq. The war is over but the Iraqi government still wants our troops there as a stabilizing force.

The solution: Since they need a reliable force to ballast their shaky democracy shouldn’t the Iraq government pay the cost of US troops on their territory. Bodyguards don’t come cheaply.

Also, we are spending tons of money to defend the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. The US had three goals in Afghanistan. 1, to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Done. He is dead, 2, to support the Afghans against the Taliban. The Afghan government is discussing an accord with the Taliban surreptitiously. Why should the US. stay?, and 3, to support the so-called next door ally, Pakistan. Since Pakistan is unreliable and untrustworthy as a ally, we have no need to support them any further.

The solution: Get out of Afghanistan.

The US maintains a force of 50,000 troops in Germany 66 years after the end of World War II, thousands more in Japan, Korea and many other locales around the globe. These countries have built up their own military and can take care of their own needs.

The solution: Close these garrisons and bring the troops home and then reduce the size of the military to a smaller but more efficient and deadly force, highly skilled in the task of defending the homeland.

There are scores of other vestigial projects left over from previous generations that cost billions despite no longer making sense or remaining viable. Let’s look at these residual federal fund guzzlers, identify them and ax them before we draw the curtains at the heart of current human needs like Medicare.

At the same time we should increase the salaries of members of Congress to at least a million dollars each to eliminate the chances they will be influenced by bribes and as a lure to get better people to run for office. It will also make the penalty for losing a seat in Congress of such financial magnitude that it could eliminate corruption in office.

The salary increase would cost the country about $450 million more than presently, but could save hundreds of billions in wasted funding of projects pushed by influential lobbyists.

Other cutbacks should be made in subsidies to profitable organizations, also ending individual tax shelters and eliminating earmarks as a device for congresspersons to enhance their districts as the costs to the rest of us.

Talking about earmarks, there is an interesting development among the Tea Party members. They have clearly stated publicly that they will not approve any government expenditures, that is, except those earmarks they want for their own districts.

They are willing to cut into Medicare funds which help millions of seniors at the same time they are trying to collect federal dollars for pet projects that favor their constituents. Another case of political hypocrisy.

The New York Times reports that Tea Partyers “have pushed for projects in their districts, including military projects opposed by the president,, replenishing beach sand lost to erosion, a $700 million bridge in Minnesota and a harbor dredging project in Charleston, S.C.”

The information was uncovered by an examination of spending bills, new releases and communications with federal agencies and from information gained through the Freedom of Information Act.

“...Nearly two dozen (Tea Party) freshmen have sought money for projects that could ultimately cost billions of dollars, while calling for less spending and banning pork projects” for others. The Times reported.

As an old friend of mind used to say, the budget cutting process depends on whose ox is being gored. If it affects the other guy it is all right. He also said we are all hypocrites to a certain degree but politicians make a career of it as they seek quick (usually poor) solutions to solve complicated problems.