April 17, 2011 in Opinion

Budget talk, from soup to nuts

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Oh no! He’s back with another number-infested column about that most scintillating of topics: the federal budget. Bet his idea of a good time is a bowl of soup and an evening with C-SPAN.

You know, I could do a Charlie Sheen-like rant, but I see that his road show was just canceled. So I figure America is finally coming to its senses and is ready for a serious discussion.

But first, a joke: This guy walks into his doctor wiggling his hand and says, “It hurts when I do this.” The doctor replies, “Then don’t do that.”

Hmm … I’m sensing a transition into the dry-as-Melba-toast stuff.

There’s a lot we’ll need to stop doing if we have any hope of controlling budgetary pain.

Nailed it! Oh, yes, please. Tell us about the pain.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who served on President Barack Obama’s deficit commission and endorsed its report, said, “We keep kicking the can down the road and splashing the soup all over our grandchildren.”

You have to admit that would hurt, particularly if it were heated first.

What is it with you and soup? Anyway, nice use of a Republican to show bipartisanship.

Thanks. I would’ve used U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, but as a commission member he voted against the plan. Instead, he’s calling for an overhaul of Medicare as one of the ways to cut government spending.

Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. What next? Ending Social Security as we know it?

Actually, he avoided that altogether. But you’re right about reality. In a recent Gallup Poll, respondents were given four options on Medicare:

1. Overhaul it

2. Major changes

3. Minor changes

4. Don’t try to control costs

Let me guess. The liberals said, “Hands off! Spend whatever it takes!”

Actually, that was the top choice of Republicans. Democrats liked “minor changes” best. An overwhelming majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents preferred one or the other.

Fell right into that trap, didn’t I?

Pretty much.

That doesn’t bode well for Ryan’s plan within his own caucus, does it?

No, and I get goose bumps every time you say “caucus.” Been sneaking in a little C-SPAN yourself?

Just when I’m avoiding commercials on “Two and a Half Men.” So in reality, Ryan’s plan is dead on arrival. Now what? Obama’s plan?

Doubt it. First, many will reflexively oppose it because he proposed it. Better to look at a bipartisan effort.

You’re circling back to that deficit commission, aren’t you?

Yep. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles were the chairmen. One is a folksy Republican. The other is named Erskine Bowles. It just screams “bean counter.”

I doubt anyone would scream that. Except you.

The panel notes that debt as a portion of Gross Domestic Product is over 60 percent at this point. Under its plan, it would dip to under 40 percent by 2040 and continue dropping from there. Under current law, meaning Congress passes no legislation to alter the budget, such as continuing the Bush tax cuts, debt would rise to above 80 percent of GDP by 2040. Under some likely policy moves (e.g., renewal of tax cuts for those with incomes below $250,000, annual Alternative Minimum Tax patches, continuing the “doctor fix,” meaning raising how much Medicare will pay them), debt would rise to 100 percent of GDP in about a dozen years and to 200 percent around 2038.

Wow, you actually read the report. OK, so what? I’ll be dead.

By 2025, we’ll only have enough revenue to finance Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the debt. For everything else, we’ll have to borrow the money.

Well, that is a bit alarming. But how would the commission solve this?

With cuts to just about everything, including defense, Medicare and Medicaid. It reforms the tax code to generate more revenue over current projections. It keeps “Obamacare” but accelerates its provisions that control health care costs. It also calls for some changes to Social Security to put it on firmer long-term footing by gradually increasing the retirement age and lowering annual benefit increases.

Oh, is that all? Now I have a joke for you. This guy walks into a psychiatrist and says, “Nobody will talk to me.” And the psychiatrist says, “Next!”

I know the feeling. And so does Erskine Bowles.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. He can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5026.

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