Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Good and the Bad
I mentioned before that the Debt Commission's recommendations (actually it's the chairmen's recommendations) included some good and some (spectacularly) bad ideas. I'm not sure it's even worth going through them since none of this is going to happen in any comprehensive way anyway. Even if the entire Commission could reach a consensus on some of them (requiring 14 of the 18 members to agree), Congress as it is currently situated is not going to take up and vote for many of these reforms.

Still, for whatever it's worth, here are the ideas I like and those I loathe:

Good: Cutting defense spending. There are too many defense projects that are continually funded not because they are necessary but because of traditions and turf-protections that are inefficient. The Center for American Progress has an excellent report on ways to responsibly cut the defense budget, including a permanent reduction in overseas personnel not in Iraq or Afghanistan, reducing our redundant nuclear force, canceling, finally, the V-22 Osprey and other overpriced, underperforming congressional darlings.

Bad: Cutting military health benefits, by requiring co-pays for active personnel and raising co-pays for veterans. Frankly, they continue to have a hard enough time as it is getting the care they need. This is a petty and insulting way to cut costs. The best way to reduce health costs associated with military personnel is to stop putting so damned many of them in harm's way.

Good: Slight adjustments to Social Security. A very small increase in the retirement age doesn't much excite me, or seem fair, but we could get used to it and it would go a long way toward fixing the highly overstated shortfall coming as baby boomers retire. Raising the cap on income subject to the Social Security tax would go the rest of the way.

Bad: Changing the Social Security benefit index from being tied to wages to a formula that also weighs the Consumer Price Index. This sounds like a slight downturn in benefits, but is one that will head downward essentially forever, gradually decimating the program as a safety net as the gap between what one earned before age 60 and what one receives in benefits gets larger and larger.

Good: Cutting agriculture subsidies. We talk about it every election cycle. Yet somehow the interests of Iowans consistently wins out over the interests of the country. (I wonder why that is...?). Let's stop paying for the over-production of corn finally.

Bad: Picking on Public Broadcasting and the Smithsonian. Recommendations from the co-chairs include ending a subsidy for the Public Broadcasting Company and charging a fee for access to the Smithsonian Museums. These are both horribly petty ideas that would save very little money in comparison to the harm done. The Smithsonian, especially, should remain free and open to the public as a way of inviting all citizens to share in and appreciate our rich cultural history. An increased effort to solicit voluntary donations would help with the costs and still maintain the important message sent by universal access to these national treasures.

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