Cutting 'pork' to rebuild coast
We can quickly find $100 billion for Gulf Coast reconstruction with a balanced approach on spending and cuts
With an expected price tag of well over $100 billion, the cost of rebuilding the devastated areas of the Gulf Coast already is putting a significant strain on our federal budget. Yet in Washington, fiscally irresponsible policies have been piling up deficits since long before Katrina came ashore.
For too long, the philosophy in Washington has been that you can spend without consequence or sacrifice. That we can fight a war in Iraq and a war on terror, protect our homeland, provide our citizens with Medicare and Social Security and maintain our domestic priorities, all while cutting taxes for the wealthy and funding every local project there is.
If you're wondering how Congress pays for all this, it doesn't. Instead, billions of dollars are borrowed from other countries and put on a credit card for our children to pay off.
Yet, when it comes time to pay these bills, no one seems to agree on any tax cuts to defer or any programs to cut. You don't have to be a deficit hawk to know that growing entitlement spending combined with tax breaks for billionaires is not a sustainable future for America.
Every family knows that it's one thing to use a credit card; it's another thing to keep spending money you don't have. You have to "Pay as You Go," which is a rule most Americans live by. Washington once did too, until the White House and Senate Republicans abandoned it to push through the president's tax breaks.
The latest example of this irresponsibility is Congress' plan to pass $70 billion in additional tax breaks despite record-breaking deficits. Clearly, old habits are hard to break.
It's time for a return to responsibility in the budget process.
I know there are Democrats who don't want to give up spending, Republicans who don't want to give up any tax breaks for the wealthy and members of both parties who don't want to give up pet projects back home, but now is a time for shared sacrifice. Americans want members of both parties to put all options on the table to start solving this problem.
I believe that we can quickly find $100 billion for Gulf Coast reconstruction with a balanced approach that finds half the money in spending cuts and half the money in the delay and repeal of tax breaks, primarily for millionaires.
To cut $50 billion in spending, we could put a two-year moratorium on all pet projects and other local spending. We could defer projects such as the $10 billion mission to Mars or eliminate unnecessary business subsidies.
We could drop funding that gives private companies extra incentives to participate in the new Medicare drug program--as the Senate already has agreed to do, though the White House has refused thus far.
We could save Medicaid money by increasing the rebates that brand-name drug manufacturers owe the program.
Rather than this measured approach, some in Congress have advocated indiscriminate across-the-board cuts. This is an irresponsible approach.
In their own budgets, Americans don't cut back on essentials such as food, heating and health care before first forgoing luxuries, and Congress shouldn't either.
Others intent on cutting spending have pointed to Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" as a wasteful project. I agree and believe that it represents the first type of project we should cut. But it's wrong to single out one state's pork project. If we're serious about shared responsibility, let's eliminate all pork projects in all states. To find $50 billion in tax breaks, we could postpone a planned tax break for millionaires, and we could temporarily roll back one of the tax cuts for those who make an income of more than $2 million per year.
With the challenges we face in Iraq and at home, asking more of those who have so much doesn't just make fiscal sense, it makes moral sense. No one likes to make hard choices on spending, and everyone has an argument about why their priorities are most important. But we are in this together, and government is about choices.
The American people are willing to sacrifice for their country--they're willing to give when there is need, to contribute where they can help. People also know what it's like to live within your means--to spend only what you can and be responsible for what you owe.
Americans expect their government to act that way too. It's time for all of us in Washington to put away old habits and rise above partisan politics so that we can meet those expectations.
If we can collaborate on paying for Gulf Coast reconstruction in a bipartisan manner now, we'll have a model for tackling our long-term budgetary challenges in the future.