Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Red Sea

President Barack Obama's 2010 federal budget includes a staggering $1.6 trillion deficit this year and an astounding sea of red ink for the next decade. Unlike Toyota's gas pedal defect, U.S. spending appears stuck in overdrive and there is no easy fix.

Today the United States remains mired in an economic crisis. Millions of Americans are out of work and more are still being added to the unemployment roles each month. Last year the government passed a $750 billion stimulus package to slow the job loss and it has had some positive effect. Yet this package and the loss of income tax revenues have exacerbated the deficit problem.

A proposed freeze on discretionary government spending, about 14% of all federal expenditures, and a tax increase for high income earners will not make much of a dent in the red ink. It is time for our elected officials in Washington stop playing political games with America's future. It is time for courage, leadership and bipartisanship.

Congress should immediately and unanimously pass legislation establishing an independent fiscal commission to reduce the federal deficit. The commission should be tasked with making recommendations that will eliminate this country's annual deficits by the end of this decade. The commission should include a collection of our best and brightest minds from a broad collection of disciplines. This will help depoliticize the process and go a long way to assure that the recommendations are fair and actionable.

Entitlements cannot be off limits, yet this very suggestion will send elected officials running to the hills. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid consume a huge percentage of our annual budget. They must be restructured in a way that realistically reflects the government's ability to pay for them.

Defense spending must also be significantly reduced. America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan must be ended as soon as possible. Further, tens of thousands of U.S. troops based in Europe, Japan and in other foreign countries must also return home. Twenty-first century technological advancements can be more vigorously applied to our national and anti-terror defenses. Unnecessary and outdated weapons systems can be eliminated.

More rigorous management procedures should be adopted across all government agencies. Billions of dollars in waste is built in to unnecessary paperwork, overlapping requirements and, at times, conflicting regulations. And members of Congress pass thousands of earmarks each year amounting to billions of taxpayer dollars. Earmarks should be eliminated.

These are but a few areas an independent fiscal commission can investigate. But nothing will happen as long as our political process is paralyzed. President Obama should sit down with the Congressional leadership, Democrats and Republicans, and together they should immediately agree to create the fiscal commission.

The recent Massachusetts senatorial election spoke volumes about this country's frustration with politics as usual. Americans want change, many of them are hurting. It is time to put politics aside for the sake of our children.

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