by Joe Shea
January 7, 2011
THE HUMAN DIE-OFF
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- I was recently asked to read an email from a "conservative" that included the charge that "Obama, in just two years, has managed to double the national debt."
I find it sad - and tragic, given the fact they vote accordingly - how desperately ignorant so many Americans are of high school civics. And loathe as I am to educate grown adults on what responsible citizens regard as basic obligations, I'd rather engage the challenge than ignore it.
First, the federal government operates on a fiscal year basis that begins October 1 and runs through September 30 of the next year. Thus, until Oct. 1, 2009, the Obama Administration was forced to administer the budget President Bush authored. Obama did not "double the national debt."
The Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, a program created by the Bush Administration forecast to cost U.S. taxpayers $356 billion, was signed into law by President Bush on October 3, 2008. John Boehner, the minority leader of the House, literally - not figuratively - was crying for all the members of the Congress to pass the measure. Barack Obama, at the time, was the junior senator from Illinois. Except for voting for the bill, Obama had nothing else to do with TARP and how it increased the national debt.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, ARRA, Public Law 111-5, the Obama stimulus package, scored at $787 billion, was signed by the President on February 17, 2009. Of that sum, approximately one-third was in tax cuts, and since signing only about half has been spent. When signed, new unemployment claims had been averaging 600,000 per month for the previous five months. Those are the facts. As the late Senator Daniel Moynihan advised us, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts."
The federal budget is comprised of two categories of spending: discretionary and non-discretionary. By definition, that which is non-discretionary is not available to the Congress or the Executive branch to do anything about. It consists of the social entitlements of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the servicing of the national debt.
Most often "defense," while discretionary indeed, is lumped in with the non-discretionary, as in "non-discretionary defense spending." Not including defense, therefore, the maximum 2010 percentage Congress will be able to adjust up or down is in the 40-percent range. Incidentally, the total cost of all "earmarks" comes to much less than one percent of the budget; a great deal of noise has been made over what is at best substantially nothing to write home about.
The total 2010 budget, discretionary, plus non-discretionary, plus defense is $3.2 trillion. Total discretionary spending, including for defense, is $1.132 trillion. Defense spending for the 2011 fiscal year is $533.7 billion, or about 47 percent of the overall budget. Anyone with a simple, 4-function calculator can now easily arrive at the amount of money Congress can cut or the programs it can gut: Approximately $598 billion.
Of course, $598 billion is an awful lot of money. But that includes everything the federal government will spend on upkeep and expansion of the country's Interstate highway system, bridges, waterways, and air traffic, on education, for border protection, for national park maintenance and pharmaceutical drug manufacturing, importation and sales. Take just one of those spending items. On a "60 Minutes" segment a couple of weeks ago, did you see how Glaxo Smith Kline had knowingly released contaminated, mislabeled and incorrectly measured prescription drugs intended for your Grandma and Grandpa and little Suzie? Take a look at the "60 Minutes" segment. That's why we spend the money that Republicans want to cut..
I'd like all those opposed to all that federal spending to be specific about the programs and amounts that should be sliced and diced. Should we cut federal highway bridge inspection and repair? FAA management and oversight of air traffic? FDA inspection and regulation of prescription pharmaceuticals? Dept. of Agriculture inspection of produce from beyond our borders? Should we eliminate Pell grants and federally regulated loans for college students? C'mon - which, and by how much? And, of course, we've all heard the braying from the right: They're not going to vote to increase the national debt ceiling. That failure would result in not only a shutting down of the government, but also cause the U.S. to default on its debt obligations. Since the days of Alexander Hamilton, our country has never done that.
And for good reason: such a failure would result in two unmitigated disasters. The first would be a total collapse of the international financial apparatus, and the second a catastrophic rise in the interest rates we would thereafter have to pay to borrow, both abroad and domestically. As someone said in the movie Good Will Hunting, "Ya like apples? How d'ya like them apples?"
Then too, there's the sound and fury over Obamacare, and how Republicans intend to repeal it. You and I know, and those howling at the moon also know, that repeal of the Health Reform Act is not going to happen. Any bill to do that would first have to pass the House - which is possible and quite likely. But then it would go to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it probably wouldn't even come up for a vote.
On the same side of the coin, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office, was written and intended to reduce the annual federal budget deficit.
Repealing PPACA would increase the deficit at the same time as it would shred many vital protections that those with health insurance have repeatedly asserted they really like; e.g., the inability of insurance companies to deny coverage, to rescind coverage, and to limit the care that physicians recommend. If little Johnny or his mom or dad comes down with an illness that will be very expensive to treat, the for-profit insurance company can once again tell their insured, "No!"
Contrary to what some want to believe, I love provocative arguments from well-informed folks that stimulate me to review, and even amend my opinions. The rusty nails to my eyes and ears, however, are thoughtless, evidence-free squeals from people with the intelligence of farm animals. If our democratic republic is to endure, the overwhelming majority of our citizens must become well-informed.