One Way Out

Author: Gary Hart

Most economists and policy experts agree that very large federal deficits are not sustainable.  The continued failure of the political system to provide a road map for reducing these deficits is taken as evidence that “government doesn’t work” and an argument for less government.  This is both a real and a symbolic issue.

Neither political party will offer a list of spending cuts and certainly neither will even discuss additional revenues.  The easiest way to reduce deficits is for the economy to expand and provide personal and corporate revenue increases required to match spending.  Very few people see this economic expansion anytime soon.  In the meantime, interest on the debt is one of the largest deficit contributors.

The problem can be solved.  Both parties could provide a specific list of spending cuts, including in favored programs.  A panel of former political leaders, sworn to forego partisanship and ideology, could negotiate a compromise between these lists.  Necessary military transformation and ideas such as a carbon tax should be on the table.  A proposed balanced budget for a given year, say 2020, could be provided to Congress.  And an up-or-down, no-amendment vote could be taken on this budget.  Those voting no would have to account for which favored program, ear-mark, pork-barrel item they believed more important than eliminating the deficit.

As mentioned before, a process very similar to this was undertaken by Esquire magazine’s Commission to Balance the Federal Budget (November issue).  It worked.  Social Security was preserved for decades to come.  Spending and revenues were stabilized at a sound percentage of gross domestic product.  The military was placed on a restructuring course and wasteful energy use reduced.  You might want to look into it.  It can be done.

16 Responses to “One Way Out”

  1. Gary Hart: One Way Out « In The News « Obama America Says:

    […] To comment, please visit Senator Hart's blog at: http://www.mattersofprinciple.com/?p=563 […]

  2. Tomas Agee Says:

    The Esquire project is fascinating, revealing that the hard work of federal budget balancing can be done in a bipartisan way if the tools of demagoguery are left in the shed. Most of the statements coming out of Congressional leaders today are so transparently only for partisan advantage as to seem laughable, but for the seriousness of the issues they fail to address.

  3. Ryan Says:

    I’m not one for the “Hack and slash” budget cuts others propose. At the end of the day, across the board spending cuts are the most politically and economically feasible. Distribute the cuts evenly across the budget and allow for restructuring to follow.

    The idea is the easiest sell politically as well.

  4. Anne Kinney Says:

    Very sensible.

  5. Neil McCarthy Says:

    Good idea. Two years from now. And after the Government has spent what it takes to get us out of this particularly troubling recession. We have lost our ability as a nation to implement a full Keynesian stimulus and that inability is killing us. The deficit during WWII (the mother of all fiscal stimuli) was, as a percentage of GDP, triple what it is now and ended (finally) the Depression. Once ended, economic growth took over and we reduced the debt. Today, we are not Greece and the bond markets are not telling us that our credit as a nation is bad or in danger of becoming so any time soon. Sen. Hart, you made your name challenging conventional wisdom. Do it again. Embrace your inner Keynes. You can embrace “One Way Out” later.

  6. Mpls Says:

    There is only one thing I find wrong with and objectionable here, sir: If we have to get former leaders to decide, why do we have current leaders?

    Leadership by definition involves making hard choices.

    How about we fix our current system so that we have publicly financed elections and term limits (for the sake of discussion, let’s say 18 years in total – and absolutely no lobbying for the same length of time for which you served in office). Maybe then we will encourage some real leaders to act like the responsible adults our Congress does not.

  7. John Says:

    It needs to be done like the base closing commissions. The problem is tackling entitlements. Look what is going on in France right now. Raise the retirement age to 70, give the Secretary of Defense MORE of a say in defense spending, not the Congress which approves stuff the military does not even want.

  8. Bill Hill Says:

    One problem with your suggestion: the egotistical, power protective boys and girls we have in DC would never get over their partisan ploys and agree to this. And it probably would never get off the ground unless it was law first and then we’re back to the original problem. Solution: new blood, starting in the primaries, with pledges to the local constituants regarding certain actions in their votes. It doesn’t take a genius to be a good Representative or Senator. It takes selflessness and integrity to continue in the promises you made back before the primaries.

  9. Bill Hill Says:

    Boo Hoo. One problem with your suggestion: the egotistical, power protective boys and girls we have in DC would never get over their partisan ploys and agree to this. And it probably would never get off the ground unless it was law first and then we’re back to the original problem. Solution: new blood, starting in the primaries, with pledges to the local constituants regarding certain actions in their votes. It doesn’t take a genius to be a good Representative or Senator. It takes selflessness and integrity to continue in the promises you made back before the primaries.

  10. John Kirk Says:

    It’s a brilliant idea: simple, fair, logical, equitable and elegant. So it will probably not be embraced…

  11. Pat Boice Says:

    What a great comment from Mpls (above)! To think our “leaders” cannot get together for the good of the country to come up with a few solutions, but must outsource solutions to some previous “leaders” is truly discouraging.

  12. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Mpls and others, the appeal of the idea is that it bypasses both Washington’s lobbying world, and the campaign money attached to it, and former experienced office holders are beyond ambition and political career concerns. I served in the day when both these considerations were minimal and many Senators did what was best for the country. Alas, those days are, at least for the time being, gone.
    In response to Neil McCarthy, the budget steps necessary to reach balance could be timed to take affect once stability and growth began to return and thus would help stimulate that growth.

  13. Bill Korstad Says:

    Golly . . . if we all just worked together and agreed to agree, we could solve the problem. I wonder why we haven’t thought of that before?! And then the next task could be to attaining perpetual world peace.

    Somehow, I expected more from Senator Hart. The reason we’re in this pickle is we because can’t agree to agree. So how can that be a workable solution?

    The real source of the problem is that one segment of society insists on a more European-like system with more government control while the other segment insists on far less government, more private sector involvement. Both goals cannot be achieved simultaneously. They are by their very nature incompatible and unable to coexist.

    The only solution is for one side to win the argument. Until that happens, we will continue driving towards the cliff both sides fighting for control of the steering wheel. Once we go over the cliff, all bets are off.

  14. Christine Gallo Says:

    Of course if we had business, especially those out-sourcing most of their work overseas, paying taxes, instead of expensing it, and coming up owing the country nothing, we might be a step ahead of the game. I’m afraid we are way past time for business, especially banking, to be contributing to the good of the country, instead of being a continual drain, and the actual source of the depression we are experiencing. It is fine to talk about cutting the budget, but unless we address the tax inequities we will not be able to afford any government. Especially one that refuses to enforce the laws and regulations necessary to prevent abuses of the public good that occur today without restraint. I am referring to lack of enforcement of mining regulations, oil drilling rules and regs., banking rules that have been so relaxed as to be non existant, air and water pollution, drug and food safety all because business has a lock on Congress. I’m willing to trim, when I see some control placed on the other side of the equation.

  15. Kevin Ready Says:

    “A panel of former political leaders, sworn to forego partisanship and ideology, could negotiate a compromise between these lists.”

    That sounds a lot like what we elect Congress and Senate to do. You’ve done mark-up on the budget …

  16. Kevin Ready Says:

    Comment: You need to get set up so each of your Blog entries gets Twittered when you issue it, rather than waiting for people to spin your blog entry with their own Tweet.

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