Many columnists like to recap the year just ended around this time and highlight the most important events. One of them was New York Times Op-Ed writer David Leonhardt who covered his top five stories in a series of columns from December 24 to December 31. He began at the bottom of his list with the tarnishing of big tech — followed by President Trump’s scandals – Democrats win control of the U.S. House of Representatives — and the fight for democracy as Republican state legislatures passed laws to restrict incoming Democratic administrations. His number one story for 2018 was climate change.
To me, the most impactful event was his number three — Democrats taking control of the House — because that will greatly influence the other four. Had Republicans prevailed, there would be less pressure to regulate Facebook, etc.; Trump’s misdeeds would be swept under the rug; Republican state legislatures would feel freer to gerrymander, suppress voters and rig the system to their advantage; and Congress would be ignoring climate change. So, hey! I am really looking forward to an exciting year with House Democrats finally able to conduct oversight investigations of Trump and his administration.
One of my big concerns during this past year – which will continue in 2019 — involves the ballooning federal deficits and national debt. So, I was thrilled recently when the Congressional Budget Office published “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028.” This very detailed, 316-page behemoth document gives policy makers all they need to know about putting the nation on the path to fiscal stability. It details the spending cuts (mandatory and discretionary) and revenue increases that would significantly reduce deficits over the next 10 years.
Republicans never look for ways to boost revenues so they will focus on spending cuts, with emphasis on mandatory spending programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The CBO identified a maximum of $3.65 trillion worth of reductions in the mandatory category. Sure enough, the social safety net programs would get hammered should Congress decide to adopt these deficit reducing proposals. College education programs, veteran’s benefits and subsidies for farmers could also take a big hit. Ahh — but any large reductions in mandatory spending would require some really tough, high-profile votes for reelection minded politicians. So, how many of these deficit reduction proposals do you think will actually be enacted?
Discretionary spending — which is subject to yearly appropriations – could be reduced up to $2 trillion. Almost half of this amount would involve cuts to defense programs like aircraft and ship purchases. Other possibilities for significant spending reductions in this category include the head start program — which would be eliminated — international affairs, highway and transit programs (infrastructure), housing assistance for low income people and manned space exploration. Now, do you think Congress will find significant opportunities to cut deficits by digging around in these options, particularly in the defense budget? I sure don’t.
Well, guess what’s left – revenue increases. This, of course, is where Democrats always want to focus; and according to the CBO, it’s a target-rich environment. Its analysts identified where Congress could boost revenues over the next decade by up to a whopping $15.8 trillion. The possibilities include raising all individual income tax rates by one percentage point, imposing a 0.01 percent tax on the value of stock transactions, increasing the payroll tax rate for Medicare Hospital Insurance, subjecting earnings greater than $250,000 to the Social Security payroll tax and many more. The largest single revenue increase — over $2 trillion — could be achieved by phasing in a five percent value added tax (VAT) across a broad base of goods and services.
I believe Congress should control the rising budget deficits with a three-pronged attack — eliminate fraud and waste in government programs — craft reasonable spending cuts — and increase various taxes. Wealthy taxpayers and corporations should applaud this shared sacrifice approach. They will benefit in the long run because eventually the horrific debt will savage the economy and hurt all of us.
As 2018 began there were supposedly three adults in Trump’s administration, Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Sec. of Defense James Mattis. They were a partial barrier to Trump’s worst instincts for a time. Yet, each reportedly called him a moron or an idiot in private, sometimes with a strong preceding expletive. Well, all three are now gone. And I think only Mattis left after a man to man faceoff with the president. The weakling in the White House likes to fire people with a tweet.
But read Mattis’ resignation letter and his farewell memo to the troops. The former outlines where he differs with Trump on the role of the United States in the liberal democratic order that the U.S. primarily created at the end of World War II. The second subtly advises the military to prevent Trump from undermining the Constitution, which he has been threatening to do almost on a daily basis since January 2017. Both contain warnings that all concerned citizens should keep in mind during the coming year.
No doubt, the 2018 midterm election was one of the most important in the past two centuries. Yet, 2019 will likely be a watershed for democracy in this nation. Still, I believe it will emerge from this crisis and be stronger as a result.
Happy New Year to all.