by Mark Scheinbaum
Angel Fire, N.M.
August 7, 2011
'TIL DEBT DO US PART
ANGEL FIRE, N.M., Aug. 2, 2011 -- There should be little or no euphoria over the Congressional bipartisan Band-Aid used to nurse decades of festering, blistered and infected economic wounds.
The sad settlement is allegedly all things to all people. In reality, it is not anything to anyone.
The whole 11th-hour affair reminds me of the time I gave one of my kids heading away to college a seldom-used Amoco gas credit card and said, "I never want you to be in an emergency situation because you are short of gas or a couple of bucks. I hope you never use it, but here it is."
A few months and a few hundred dollars of emergencies later, I guess I should not have been surprised by how many bags of chips, cases of soda, oil changes, tires, and who knows what can be run up not by your enemies but by family and friends.
I have been mulling some deep and academic think piece about the national debt, gross national product, projected income for the next two or three generations, etc.
In recent days in two cities in many social, business, dining and shopping venues, no one was overheard talking about the deficit. Honest. Movies and weather, yes. Budget, no.
Where were the substantive debates on spending and income?
I emailed some think tanks for answers and still await a response. I also have a list of Web sites, most of which conflict with each other, but... Would you like to know?
What would be the long term impact of completely eliminating all long-term capital gains taxes for individuals? How many billions would be freed up for a new roof, a car, a master's degree, carpeting, a rebuilt transmission, an investment property or a facelift? Would it be a loss, revenue neutral, or generate even more taxable dollars?
And why is there a U.S. Department of Education?
I believe free public schools are a catalyst for healthy democracy. But how did we survive as a nation for 235 years without a cabinet department for education? I am a former college teacher and teacher's union national rep. I don't have to prove my credentials. But:
This year's U.S. Department of Education budget is $69.9 billion. Not the Pentagon, but not chump change! Next year, the department requests a modest two percent increase.
In New Jersey, 500 local school districts dictate curriculum and policy. It is decentralized and locally controlled. If folks in New Jersey don't like it they can, and do, make arrangements with nearby districts for special classes, schools and programs.
In Florida, there are a more manageable 67 county boards of education, working with curriculum guidelines from Tallahassee, but still making local policy and even lobbying the legislature for their local needs.
In the United States of America, public K-12 education is local. The President of the United States is not Commander-in-Chief of the lunchroom.
This is one example. But where is the debate?
How about keeping a Secretary of Education with no budget but mandating that every other cabinet department designate an existing Undersecretary as "curriculum liaison." If they feel some states are neglecting agricultural, commercial, environmental or foreign policy courses they can send a memo.
And what about war reparations?
Not to civilian collateral victims of Iraq or Afghanistan, but to the United States?
Umm, let's see. We launched Gulf War II against Iraq because either President George W. Bush vowed the guys who threatened to assassinate his dad must be killed, or there was a typographical error that changed Iranian terror exporters to 'Iraqi."
About a trillion dollars was wasted as thousands of American troops died, so we will just take 40 percent of Iraqi oil revenue at five percent accrued interest until we are paid back.
What about Afghanistan?
A great newsman and radio station owner I knew, the late Everett Aspinwall, was a great salesman. He closed sales by assuring prospects, "We have no interest in selling you advertising you can't afford, don't need, or will not get you results."
Voila! Welcome to Afghanistan. We did what the Russians and British could not do.
We cleaned out the vermin, and if the loose confederations of "citizens" want corrupt tribal and federal leaders, let them have it without our help.
In the meantime the perhaps half-trillion dollars spent "liberating" that feudal 18th Century "nation" can be recovered by assigning the production of heroin-yielding poppy plants to U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies, which will buy the essence of morphine and other drugs at a deep discount until our account is paid back. We are de facto sponsors of the drug trade there, anyway, so why not cash in on the crop?
Readers all have their own pet budget questions.
On the revenue side, why should ultra-wealthy people with multiple homes get interest-rate deductions on their taxes - when most of the folks I know are upside down on their mortgage, or struggling to stay current and no hope of affording a second home?
When Web seminars and videoconferences now dirt cheap or free, is it perhaps time to revisit travel and entertainment expenses for business execs who wine and dine regional Federal Reserve governors in Jackson Hole, Aspen, or Davos?
Finally the best solution to lousy legislation is not term limits. It is session limits.
Before, we had a Congress with almost no armed services veterans, which was the Lifetime Law Degree Annuity Repository, we had citizen-soldiers and citizen-statesmen.
Limit Congressional sessions to 90 days per year.
Do not, repeat not cut their pay. Just freeze the pay at today's level for five years and pro-rate their pay for the 90-day per diem when they actually serve in Washington.
With no need to live in Washington year-round and fly back and forth on your dime, we will quickly find people reverting to real jobs the rest of the year.
I love, cherish, honor, and obey the laws of the United States. Til debt do us part.
AR financial writer Mark Scheinbaum wrote this article a few days before the U.S. credit rating was downgraded by S&P. We thought it was worth revisiting.