The 41 percent solution to the federal budget

January 9, 2013 

You needn’t be Sherlock Holmes to solve this case – of every dollar spent by the federal government, 41 cents is borrowed – and I find it incredibly timid of Washington to talk only about chipping away at the resulting deficits over the next 10 years. Why not balance the budget now?

My generation, the Baby Boomers, and to an extent our parents, have enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, but it’s been prefabricated when the government has accumulated more than $16 trillion in debt for services, benefits and programs we haven’t been able to afford. To solve the spending portion of the current fiscal crisis, I propose the 41 percent solution, but first I suggest that the word “entitlements” be banned from any further debate.

The 2013 federal budget (10/12-9/13) is originally $3.8 trillion; less 41 percent it’s roughly $2.2 trillion we can spend. The rest must be dropped to balance the budget. Let me illustrate the 41 percent solution by addressing the three biggest components of government spending: Medicare (and Medicaid), Social Security and defense, which together account for two-thirds of the total budget.

The Medicare budget of $941 billion would be slashed to $555 billion. Successful, wealthy people would receive no government assistance, which they don’t need. Those in the middle who are relatively secure would receive half their current benefits. Assistance to the truly needy among us would be maintained. (I wonder if a slimmed down budget for Medicare and Medicaid would prompt all of us to eat more sensibly and live a healthier lifestyle. I wonder if it would force our elected officials to give up pork, despite their special needs.)

Social Security spending would be cut from $883 billion to $521 billion. The top third should not be receiving thousands and thousands of dollars each month to subsidize their private club memberships, cruises, yachts and new cars. (I don’t think that’s what FDR had in mind, do you?) Those in the middle would receive half their current and planned benefits, and the bottom third would be protected, but eligibility ages for all must be raised. (Ironically, the way things stand now we’re guaranteeing only the social insecurity of future generations.)

Defense spending will also have to shrink, from $673 billion to $397 billion, which means no more massive invasions and prolonged land wars. If the bad guys get out of line, we visit them with drones and cruise missiles.

Certain budget items shouldn’t be touched, for example, veteran benefits. But the 41 percent solution would require private companies to perform as many government functions as possible, and it would take a mighty ax to what remains of Agriculture, Energy, Education, NASA, NPR, the Postal Service and the IRS (which might even be eliminated by a sane, simple, new tax code). Speaking of which, companies should receive a juicy tax credit for every single unemployed person they hire.

Admittedly, the 41 percent solution is draconian. It would trigger at least a recession, but the sacrifice will actually feel good, as we realize we’re finally taking real action to reclaim and preserve the former greatness of this country for future generations.

It’s elementary.

The writer lives in Pawleys Island.

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