Balancing the Federal Budget: What to Cut?
Black writes that, “It’s a nice little fantasy to fetishize ‘small government’ and imagine that liberals fetishize ‘big government’ but that just isn’t the reality. Put up or shut up – what would you cut out of this budget?” Drum adds, “So: if you support the tax cuts, and you don’t want to cut defense spending, and you want a balanced budget, you need to slice about $400 billion out of the $500 billion that’s left.”
Sullivan responds, in part,
I’d prefer experts like Brian Riedl or Veronique de Rugy to propose detailed cuts. But my back-of-the-envelope wish-list is that I’d repeal the Medicare drug entitlement, abolish ear-marks, institute a line-item veto, pass a balanced budget amendment, means-test social security benefits, index them to prices rather than wages, extend the retirement age to 72 (and have it regularly extended as life-spans lengthen), abolish agricultural subsidies, end corporate welfare, legalize marijuana and tax it, and eliminate all tax loopholes and deductions, including the mortgage deduction, (I’d keep the charitable deduction). For good measure, I’d get rid of the NEA and the Education Department.
Aside from the fact that virtually none of these things are politically feasible and some of them are probably unconstitutional, an interesting list. I would say this wouldn’t come close to achieving the necessary cuts but I haven’t the foggiest idea (no pun intended) of the effect of a marijuana tax.
From a sheer preferences point of view–leaving aside all political considerations–I agee in principle with most of Sullivan’s cuts. The major exception is raising the retirement age to 72, which would be fine for white collar types such as myself but unthinkable for people in physically demanding jobs. We don’t want 71-year-olds trying to make a living mining coal, fighting fires, or flying commercial airliners.
In a larger sense, though, I am in favor of low taxes and relatively little non-defense spending on part of the federal government but have no fetish whatsoever for balanced budgets. Borrowing to pay for long term investments in the infrastructure or to provide for the national security strikes me as perfectly sound, conservative policy. So long as other spending is constrained–and that includes taking a hard look at defense spending, especially on the procurement side–the business cycle will largely take care of the budget.
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