States serious on budget, unlike Washington

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Trader666, Mar 8, 2011.

  1. Our view: States serious on budget, unlike Washington

    To the casual observer, the budget skirmishes in the states and in Washington might seem like different parts of a common war. Both are noisy endeavors that generally pit Republicans against Democrats. Both have prompted the usual opinion mongers and special interests to line up in their predictable ways.

    In reality, what's going on in state capitals has very little to do with what is going on in Washington.

    In states, a number of governors — mostly Republican, but also including Democrats such as Andrew Cuomo of New York — are pushing for significant spending cuts. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has gotten the most attention with his plan to slash aid to schools, cut a range of spending, hike government pension and health care contributions, and all but end public employee collective bargaining rights. Other states are eyeing significant measures as well, ranging from mass layoffs, to cuts in Medicaid and converting government pensions to 401(k)-type programs.

    One might like, or not like, these proposals. But there is no doubt that they are serious, if painful, efforts to close budget gaps. These governors are propelled by dire fiscal situations, limits on their borrowing powers, and the fact that their main spending problems — government employee benefits and Medicaid — are not as politically unassailable as Medicare, Social Security and other federal budget headaches.

    Most editorials are accompanied by an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature that allows readers to reach conclusions based on both sides of an argument rather than just the Editorial Board's point of view.

    What is happening in Washington, on the other hand, is not a genuine effort to deal with the nation's fiscal problems — at least not yet, and not publicly. All the sound and fury about budget cuts, and a potential government shutdown now looming on March 18 after a two-week reprieve, is a sideshow.

    The $61 billion in spending cuts being sought by House Republicans, and being fiercely resisted by Democrats, represent just 3.7% of this year's deficit and 1.6% of total federal spending. That's not to say there shouldn't be cuts. You have to start somewhere to change attitudes. But any genuine effort to deal with the nation's exploding debt involves tackling benefit programs, reining in defense and security spending, and raising more tax revenue.

    So far, President Obama has passed up a golden opportunity to provide leadership by largely ignoring the very good, and positively received, work of his deficit commission. House Republicans, for their part, have jumped on the public's growing concern over the debt as a chance not just to do some useful pruning but also to target various agencies and programs they don't like. What they haven't done is show any more inclination than Obama to tackle the real spending issues that threaten the nation's future.

    How will we know when Washington gets serious about curbing spending? When it starts talking about health care, retirement and defense programs, because that's both where the money is and where political risk lies. These programs dwarf any savings that could be wrenched from domestic discretionary spending, where the GOP cuts are concentrated.

    Perhaps some seriousness will emerge when Republicans unveil their budget for fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1. House leaders have promised that the 2012 budget, to be released next month, will include entitlement reform, though they have yet to offer specifics.

    And perhaps Obama has some grand, master strategy behind his passive approach. But for the time being the only place where the pressing issues are getting their due is in a series of behind-the-scenes, bipartisan discussions held by six senators — Democrats Dick Durbin, Mark Warner and Kent Conrad and Republicans Tom Coburn, Saxby Chambliss and Mike Crapo— who are trying to craft legislation out of the deficit commission's recommendations.

    Much rides on these talks among the "Gang of Six." If they're derailed by political gamesmanship or simple cowardice, the differences between states and Washington will remain vast. To paraphrase Mark Twain, they will be as distinct as lightning and lightning bugs.
  2. pspr


    When you don't own the printing press you have to make the tough choices.
  3. +infinite