Monday, March 4, 2013
I find myself uncertain about this sequester thing. There's certainly been heat leading up to it: accusations, lies, bad reporting, exaggerations from both sides, maybe. I've been saying for as long as I've been writing (and President Obama has been saying the same) that budgetary balance would require giving from both sides, and that it would need to include revenue as well as cuts. And that the cuts would need to come from the military budget as well as from domestic spending.
So in some sense this isn't entirely different from what I've thought was needed. The problem, as I see it, is that in the sequester the domestic cuts are wrongly aimed at the most vulnerable and, not coincidentally, at the least politically powerful. The kind of cuts I've advocated were aimed at reconciling such benefits as Medicare and Social Security with need.
My guess is the military will be fine; in fact, I'd say there's more cutting to be done there. Not that it'll happen. We need to eliminate the cap on income subject to Social Security withholding. Not that it'll ever happen. We need to charge more for or lower Medicare benefits to those making above a certain level of income, or having a certain level of net wealth. Not that it'll ever happen. We need to specify the magical mystery loopholes of Romney and Ryan fame and get rid of them. Not that it'll ever happen.
What we really need to do is have that much referenced "national conversation" about what we consider the current and future needs of a functioning society, one which acknowledges certain unpleasant truths: such as the fact that in such a diverse society there will always be people in need of help; and the fact that it costs money to provide stuff that most people consider important. Schools, roads, cops... The conversation ought to include realistic assessment of what the needs are and best guesses at what they'll cost, now, and in the future; and it should ask what are the fairest and most effective ways to collect the money to pay for them. People will need to be made to understand that even if they've gotten what they need already, a functioning and continuing society needs to provide the same things for the next generation, and that those who no longer need it still are obliged, as Americans, to play their part.
Not that it'll ever happen.