A reporter once asked Dr. Arthur Jones, the eccentric inventor of the Nautilus brand of fitness equipment, why he kept such a large gun collection in his home. Jones told the interviewer, “Guns are a lot like tourniquets. You don’t need ’em often, but when you do, you need ’em in a hurry.”Jones’ theory of immediacy conjures up visions of our current trio of presidential contenders attempting to construct any type of meaningful reform, whether it be revamping the Tax Code or establishing a universal health care system. The problem is that none of the triumvirate quite knows whether implementing change of any size will require a gun (figuratively, of course) or a tourniquet. Perhaps both.
Although Comptroller General David Walker stepped down earlier in March, his “Fiscal Wake-Up Tour” — where he warned audiences of the trillions in unfunded liabilities that lie ahead — should remain for many a very uncomfortable reminder. By Walker’s and the Government Accountability Office’s estimates, the aggregate costs of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security exceed projected revenue by more than $50 trillion over the next 75 years. Even if you exclude the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the country is staring down the barrel of a debt projection whose numbers exceed the comprehension of most mortals.
The Congressional Budget Office recently issued a report that was only slightly less dire, to the effect that the only ways for the U.S. to maintain a degree of long-term fiscal stability are to reduce spending, increase taxes, or some combination thereof. In the good news category, the CBO said that the annual budget deficit would end in a surplus of $61 billion by 2013 — but that’s contingent on reaching several baseline metrics, none of which most experts believe can be met on the present course.
While the three candidates for the Oval Office claim that their grandiose plans for change in America won’t add to the deficit, I’ve yet to see or read anything that says they’ve outlined strategies to trim it, either.
Barack Obama has promised to end the war in Iraq, while both he and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton are in favor of allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for higher earners above the $250,000 threshold and ending tax breaks for corporations.
Across the aisle, Sen. John McCain has entitlement reform in his crosshairs, while proposing to cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent. He also has talked about implementing a “simpler, fairer Tax Code,” and put out the idea of a flat-tax approach to reduce the burden on the middle class.
To be sure, many of the candidates’ proposals appear appealing on paper. But until anything is officially passed in Congress, it’s pretty easy to claim that the funding for any reform program is already paid for (as Obama has claimed) or that it won’t add to the national debt or even raise taxes significantly. There’s nothing that can be disproved.
Remember, it’s all bullspit until the check clears — if it does.
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