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Can't spend our way out of our troubles

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:21 a.m. CST, Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is it just me or does anyone else question the abilities of those in Washington to balance a checkbook or comprehend simple arithmetic?  I add that neither party holds a monopoly in such failings. I suppose those involved in governing have far too many weighty issues on their collective plates to be concerned with an entity so mundane as fiscal responsibility, but to those of us who must deal with day-to-day reality, that simply does not fly.

The first harbinger of a different standard was the discovery that a number of Cabinet nominees failed to pay portions of income or Social Security taxes. Of these, former Sen. Tom Daschle, health and human services secretary hopeful; and Nancy Killefer, the choice for White House chief performance officer, withdrew their names. Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the replacement for Daschle; former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, now the U.S. trade representative; and Tim Geithner, the treasury secretary, were among the tax evaders confirmed by Congress.

Similarly confirming that tax avoidance is not a significant bar to high government office, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, New York’s Charles Rangel, was discovered to have somehow forgotten to pay up to $1.3 million in outside income. Does it shock anyone that this gentleman is still on the job?

Additionally, in these days of rising unemployment and financial uncertainty among the public, there are other ventures of dubious fiscal or economic value promised us. One is the guarantee that some 47 million uninsured persons can be added to the rolls of those covered by health care without raising taxes for those making under $250,000 annually or adding one dime to the deficit is one that, as a citizen of the Show-Me State, I find impossible to reconcile.

Consequently, the following two proposals which, collectively, add $260 billion to the federal deficit with neither compensatory tax increases nor spending cuts should give even the most progressive and "government knows best" element of our society cause for alarm. These are the fiscal sleight of hand in moving $247 billion in Medicare reimbursements off the books and the equally ill-conceived $250 dollar handout to seniors and others to compensate for no increase in cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security.

The nearly half-trillion dollars Congress wished to set aside was to gain the American Medical Association's support for the administration’s health care efforts while continuing a myth of deficit-neutral spending. Medicare reimbursements for doctors' fees are scheduled to decrease 21.5 percent next year and 40 percent over five years as the sustainable growth rate kicks in when the costs rise too steeply. “Temporarily” suspending the cuts is an annual affair inasmuch as most physicians could not afford to continue seeing Medicare patients.

Unfortunately for the administration, but favorable to taxpayers, this ploy raised costs to over $1 trillion, creating an unacceptable political minefield. With 13 Democrats joining the Republican minority, this measure, agreed to earlier by the House of Representatives, failed in the Senate. Let's hope it will not be resurrected.

As for the $13 billion to $14 billion to be doled out to seniors, veterans and other retirees to assuage the pain of no cost-of-living increase in their 2010 checks, “let’s look at the record,” as Gov. Al Smith of New Yorksaid as he nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. There is no cost-of-living increase in 2009 — in fact, the 5.8 percent increase authorized last year buys more now, as the cost of most goods has decreased.

You may look upon this windfall in any manner or from any viewpoint that pleases you; however, by any standard, it is a bribe or at the very least, a “feel-good” extra meal at the government trough. Yes, seniors have been hit hard by the current recession; nevertheless, they have suffered less from job losses and mortgage foreclosures, and, other than from rising medical costs, have seen no more hardship than other generation groups.

One would have to be blind to miss the obvious. The projected Medicare cuts along with other uncertainties in proposed health care options have caused seniors to experience the most angst and skepticism toward the glowing promises but equally vague substance contained in the various and voluminous bills.

While a few are lined up with their hands out, most seasoned citizens recognize “30 pieces of silver” as inducement to support a measure as blatantly ill-planned and ill-presented as the current health care fix. Having worked to raise and support families and pay taxes all our lives, we know firsthand that there is no free lunch; you cannot spend yourself out of debt, and every dollar from government was first taken from us.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.

 


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