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Averted Government Shutdown: President Obama and John Boehner's Phony Fight

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Congressional leaders, with barely an hour to go before a federal government shutdown, announced late Friday night they had reached a deal to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year by cutting 38 billion dollars.

Enter the Three Stooges

Speaker of the House John Boehner said the agreement came after "a lot of discussion and a long fight," and he won an ovation from his rank and file. "We fought to keep government spending down because it really will be a jobs creator for our country," Boehner said.

Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid called the agreement "historic." He also said, "both sides have made tough choices, but tough choices is what this job is all about," Reid said.

President Obama called Boehner and Reid after the announcement of the budget resolution to thank them for their work.

With all due respect, John Boehner, Harry Reid, and President Obama should stop patting themselves on the back. Nothing about this budget cut is remotely “historic”.

Here are the numbers: The deal reached Friday trims $38.5 billion from the current fiscal year's budget, a $3.8 trillion spending plan that creates a $1.2 trillion deficit.

The federal debt is $14 trillion, and the government has already run up $830 billion in additional red ink during the first six months of fiscal 2011, the Congressional Budget Office announced Thursday.

What all of these numbers means is that the $38.5 billion eventually wrung out of the budget in negotiations between Obama, Boehner and Reid is a mere pittance. It's about 1 percent of the budget. For the federal government, that's practically a rounding error.

That, however, didn't stop the three men from beaming proudly and each separately claiming that they'd reached some sort of noteworthy milestone. True, the 38 billion dollar spending cut represents the largest single-year spending cut in the nation's history, but taken in context of the sheer size our debt hardily qualifies it for Reid's claim that "this is historic, what we've done."

Nor does it justify Boehner's claim that he and his fellow Republicans "fought to keep government spending down."

And still less does it justify President Obama's claim, delivered in his regular Saturday address to the nation, that it reflects the sacrifices American families have made in these economic hard times as they've been fired, furloughed, or seen their wages cut or “frozen”. "That's what families do in tough times," the president said Saturday. "They sacrifice where they can, even if it's hard, to afford what's really important."

Sorry, Mr. President, almost every American is almost certainly dealing with family finances that have dropped by far more than a single percentage point. In fact, American families have endured this sluggish economy for years now-- seeing wages stay stagnant as gas prices continue to rise at an alarming rate, suffering from increases in health care costs and premiums, and dealing with an 8.8% unemployment rate. Please do not compare the decrease of the bloated federal budget with the budgets of American families.

No, what you and Congress have done is not hard; it is laughable. Worse, it looks even more pathetic by the praise that you and others in our national leadership are heaping on yourselves. In the real world, Mr. President, Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid, cutting spending by 1 percent would have been a 10-minute problem for most businesses and families--“

Look, Honey, money is tight this week… let’s go out and celebrate your birthday next week.

“Okay”.

Budget crisis averted.


What Must Be Done to Really Cut Federal Spending

Yes, polls show that the majority of voters want a smaller federal budget, as long as the cuts do not affect them personally. Great. However, somebody has to make some difficult decisions in Washington.

Much of the budget cut discussion in Washington is about everything except what's important. That’s why we are seeing ideological battles about cutting Planned Parenthood, defunding NPR, or the slashing spending on the EPA. Sorry Republicans—though cutting these programs score points with your base, they are simply a few drops in the federal budget bucket of water.

The debate between Democrats and Republicans on the budget excludes the largest drivers of the long-term deficit — Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare — to say nothing of the biggest non-entitlement costs, like the tax break for interest on mortgages. Only four months ago, the Simpson-Bowles commission presented a series of highly intelligent solutions to our fiscal problems, proposing $4 trillion in savings, mostly through cuts in programs but also through some tax increases.

Unfortunately, both parties have largely forgot these recommendations. Democrats have sheepishly backed a proposal to raise the retirement age for Social Security by one year — in 2050. Boy, that really puts a dent in the runaway spending. Many Republicans, too, have been hesitant to tackle the third rail of politics—entitlements. Even the Tea Party, who advocate large federal budget cuts, is loath to cut social security spending.

Why We Must Make Some Real Cuts Now

Instead, Washington is likely to make across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending, where there is much less money and considerably less waste. Reducing funds for things like education, scientific research, air-traffic control, NASA, infrastructure and alternative energy will not produce much in savings, and it will hurt the economy's long-term growth.

This would happen at the very moment that our international competitors from Germany to South Korea to China are making large investments in education, science, technology and infrastructure. We are cutting investments in these key areas and in order to maintain a bloated, inefficient, entitlement system rife with fraud— exactly the opposite what our nation needs to do to promote economic growth.

Here is another sobering statistic—the federal government spends $4 or $5 on elderly people for every $1 it spends on those under 18. And when the time comes to make cuts, guess whose programs are first on the chopping board? Mr. President, remember your slogan from your State of the Union Address; is this how to win the future?

Perhaps There Is Some Hope.

Not everyone in Washington is clueless about these fiscal realities. Some understand that unless we want to insure that the next generation is going to drown in an ocean of debt, we have to talk about budget cuts in terms of trillions, not billions of dollars.

Representative Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” would cut 6.2 trillion dollars over the next decade. Though many of its provisions could get bipartisan support, the plan advocates the repeal of Obama’s health care plan, which is surely a hard pill to swallow for Democrats and would never be spared of the President’s veto.

Senator Rand Paul has also suggested some heavy cuts; he would reduce federal spending by 500 billion dollars over the course of five years.  Of course there are detractors on both sides of the political aisle. Democrats will find its cuts in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the elimination of federal subsidies for Amtrak impossible to accept; Republicans are most likely to vehemently oppose its 47.5 billion dollar reduction in defense spending.

Washington will be forced to consider some of these proposals because the next budget fight is only weeks away—will the federal debt ceiling be raised?

This new budget hurdle to overcome, passing an increase on the federal debt limit to avoid defaulting on interest payments on the national debt, will be a battle that will be over not billions, but a trillion dollars.

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The federal debt limit stands at $14.294 trillion. In order to keep the government functioning, this must be raised significantly by May 16 -- or "catastrophic" consequences will result, according to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

For this next show, hopefully we will see more of Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Rand Paul and less of the Three Stooges.


Contact Erik Uliasz at euliasz@philly2philly.com


Photo Credit: AP Photos

For other hot stories, check out Dennis Bakay's story on gas prices

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