As we all know by now, Alan (I’m so tall I don’t have to be smart) Simpson and Erskine (I was somebody once, but no one remembers) Bowles have offered up their prescription for the long term fiscal health of the nation: feed the rich and starve everyone else….all to achieve a notionally balanced budget roughly in time for the next glaciation.
Now, in one of those occasions when the credit-where-credit-is-due button gets pushed, The New York Times comes up with something both fun and useful, a You Fix The Budget game.
It’s got huge and predictable limitations, of course, all centered around the paucity and bluntness of the options. But still it gives a nice feel for what’s really at stake here, not to mention just how utterly focused on class warfare (on the side of uppers, of course) the Catfood Commission chairthings find themselves.
I had a go, and got us to surplus in 2015 with a mixture of budget cuts and tax increases that included blowing away farm subsidies, reducing government contracting, whacking defense pretty good (though not every offered cut), eliminating the Bush tax cut on the over $250K crowd, but not on the rest of us. Throw in a carbon tax and a bank tax and a couple more things and you’re there.
My approach puts the US in the black by 8 billion in 2015, essentially a rounding error of course, and left a notional 620 billion dollar deficit in 2030. I can’t bring myself to worry too much about that, as even ten year budget projections are essentially nonsense, much less 20 year ones.
But if I did care, I could close that gap by allowing the estate tax to return to Clinton era levels, apply the payroll tax to incomes above the current threshold, take one more whack at military spending and a couple of odds and ends.
That’s enough — go have fun yourselves, and save the nation.
Just one last thought, though. The key message of the NYT’s game is that the real budget killers we face now are military expenditures and health care costs. Anything one can do to reduce either will have disproportionately large effects on budgets down the line. And, to dig one layer deeper: if the NYT is to be believed, it’s not issues of eligibility or the age at which Medicare kicks in that are the real drivers here.
Rather, the real money in health care savings in particular and deficit reduction in general comes in the tax treatment of employer benefits and, (the 900 pound gorilla in the room), in medical cost inflation.
In that context, GOP opposition (and Blue Dog enabling manouvers) to such measures as the public option; it sgrandstanding on Medicare Advantage, and the ludicrous refusal to use purchasing scale to constrain drug pricing under Medicare Part D can be seen clearly for what it is:
Proof positive, as if any more were needed, that the GOP does not care about the deficit.
Which we knew already — but this game helps dramatize. It helps demonstrate how Republican proposals on the budget only make sense when seen as part of a long-running, and right now quite successful effort to transfer as much wealth as possible from the middle and poor to the rich.
If in the process, GOP governance bankrupts the US — that’s a feature not a bug.
My question, though, is why do they hate America so?
Image: Francisco de Goya “Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zunica” c. 1792