Mitt Romney wants to get Dick Cheney to shoot Big Bird. The argument can be made that you have to start somewhere and that’s what he seems to be doing. People see it as wasteful spending and it is an easy one to tackle. Federal funding for PBS is $444m which would certainly cover my mortgage but, given the the deficit is $1.1 trillion, foreclosing on Oscar’s trash can is like giving up water as the first step of a diet.
The fastest growing, non-defense, part of the deficit are not these discretionary programs (I’m not saying there isn’t waste there, just slicing up the pie) but the entitlement programs. As the population gets older, more people draw Social Security and fewer pay into it. The levers to fix it are increase social security taxes, increase minimum ages, decrease the corresponding payout percentages or gut the system. No one is going to get elected if they propose any of the above. Medicare/Medicaid is a mess. There’s $2b/year in erroneous billings and fraud. If you paid a company 10% of whatever savings they could clean up, the government would still save $1.8b. Cut fossil fuel subsidies, ethanol subsidies and tighten the purse strings on foreign aid. If they’re not going to make changes or reduce but still want to reduce the deficit, it means higher taxes (either the rate or elimination of deductions like mortgage interest).
Kudos to candidates. They assume the electorate are slack-jawed yokels who will latch onto an idea like a seagull dives for a french fry and, sadly, they correct in this assumption more often than not. A couple of tried and true examples;
- Drilling for oil in the US will decrease our dependence on foreign oil. Romney has been beating this drum but it’s not as simple as, if I plant tomatoes I won’t have to buy them at the store. The basic economics of this pitch fail. Other oil producing nations can reduce production, keeping the price up. If the producers in the US can get more revenue by exporting, they will and the Government will be powerless to stop them. The worldwide demand continues to grow (see India and China).
- [Insert Name of Candidate] can create jobs. Unless the government is going to start hiring, the most any Mayor, Governor, or President can do is try to enact policies (a.k.a. tax breaks to companies) to try and get them to hire. GE, for example, pays $0 in taxes. Not much of a carrot for them.
- Success is individual, failure is someone else’s fault.
- Don’t let facts cloud your arguments. Whether it’s old data, data taken out of contexts or values that are difficult to disprove, all a candidate needs to do is start spewing numbers to make their version more plausible. Check factcheck.org or Politifact.com
Once elected, the primary job of that person is to get re-elected. The notion that any candidate will commit re-election suicide by taking the needed steps around Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid if a foolish notion. They will try to cut the spending that won’t hurt them in the polls the next time around. The idea of a budget is that you don’t spend more than that amount, but that notion is long gone from not just government but from households.