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U.S. | Health, Housing, and Public Services

Reconcile and reduce
by Joseph Kendzierski
Monday Nov 26th, 2012 7:23 AM
Workshop offers in-depth look at federal budget and how to fix it
This article was published in the Portland State University Vanguard, Nov 20, 2012.

Reconcile and reduce

ART OF THE POSSIBLE
By Joseph Kendzierski
Workshop offers in-depth look at federal budget and how to fix it

One of the biggest questions on the national scale is: How are we going to reconcile the federal budget and reduce the deficit? There’s a lot of talk about what we can do and the kinds of solutions available, but will they work? And why?

On Monday, Nov. 5, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) cohosted a budget workshop/town hall meeting with Portland State’s political science department that asked participants to work in small groups to look at how the U.S. can improve the federal budget and Social Security.

Using numbers from the 2011 national budget, the Concord Coalition gave each group a set of figures and available options.

My group focused solely on the federal budget and what we as a nation could do to improve it. We agreed that the budget should reflect our priorities as a political community, and we concentrated on looking at the programs we felt could really help the most people.

The topic gets really dry, really fast, so I won’t go into the minutiae; instead, I’ll highlight some things I felt were the most interesting or significant.

First: national defense. According to the Concord Coalition, defense spending accounts for approximately $708 billion, or 19 percent, of the total federal budget. This figure should go down, partly as a result of ending both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and partly from reenvisioning the way we’ll defend ourselves in the future.

The way we fight wars is changing. It’s moving away from the traditional model that dominated Cold War spending and into a new paradigm of war, which shows that smaller unit sizes have a technological advantage over their opposition. The defense budget should reflect these changes.

Second: health care. Of the seven options provided in the workshop, only two were worthwhile: adding a public option to health care exchanges and gradually raising the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67 by 2027. Both options could help add money to the federal budget, though not in any substantial way.

Third: increasing revenue. Given the options provided, only one contributes to increasing revenue in any meaningful way: comprehensive tax reform. By restructuring the tax system to include only three progressive tax brackets, the Concord Coalition estimates that $1.3 trillion would be raised over the next 10 years.

The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts should be allowed to expire, as written in current law. Allowing these cuts to expire would increase individual tax liability. This is not a tax increase or a new tax, it’s simply allowing tax rates to return to previous levels.

Fourth: the oil and gas industry. Subsidies need to be eliminated. I’m not a finance expert, but I think that if oil companies are posting record profits the federal government shouldn’t be giving them more money. This is a very politically loaded proposition that, at the very least, warrants a little investigating by our elected representatives.

While these options are by no means inclusive or exhaustive, our government could really make some serious progress if it were shown that we are willing to make some sacrifices in order to further the common good.

I encourage all of you to research the issues that you believe are most important and then let your representatives know how you feel and what you think they should do. Having worked in a senator’s office, I assure you that it’s appreciated when you make your voice heard.