The big-picture reasoning behind President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget is solid: This economic recovery is too fragile, and too many are teetering on the edge of falling out of the middle class, for immediate government austerity.
The president is correct to suggest that first this nation gets healthy, then we slim down. Investing in our future is called for, from maintaining Pell Grants to fixing bridges to expanding mass transit. All would create jobs now plus essential infrastructure to position this country for the future.
Obama’s plan includes some deficit reduction by eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy and by tweaking entitlement programs.
But, once again, the president has failed the American people by refusing to tread into Social Security reform, and by offering only token reform in Medicare. They are the largest and fastest growing drivers of our national debt.
As his own debt-reduction commission suggested two years ago, Social Security reform doesn’t have to be immediately painful. There are a few common sense solutions that liberals and conservatives know are needed.
Raising the Social Security eligibility age is one. When Social Security was established with a retirement age of 65, the average life expectancy was 62. Today, the eligibility age is slowly climbing toward 67, while the average American life expectancy is above 78 and expected to near 84 by 2050.
Slowly increasing the retirement age would go a long way toward securing this vital program for future generations, as would eliminating or increasing the income cap for paying into the system.
Medicare reform is more complicated, but Obama’s proposed $364 billion in savings over the next decade won’t be enough to secure the program.
Beyond entitlements, this budget delays and possibly ends the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility that had been planned for Manhattan, Kan. In tough economic times there will be delays in new projects. We would suggest that NBAF is an essential piece of our security and health infrastructure, and therefore the project should move ahead. But while the current facility in Plum Island is aging, it can work for a couple extra years.
More troubling is the notion that the planned facility in Manhattan might be scrapped altogether, leading to a new site selection process. This would be a waste of time and taxpayer money. The previous process was fair and complete. There is no need for a revisit.
One possible explanation for the NBAF funding delay is suggested in a statement from influential Kansas officeholders opposed to putting the facility on hold: From Gov. Sam Brownback, to congressman Kevin Yoder, to U.S. Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, there was no member of the all-Republican Kansas delegation on even decent terms with this White House. But political alliances are a poor basis for making policy.
A common GOP complaint about Obama’s proposed 2013 budget is that it’s a political, not a practical, document. While every budget is political, in that it reflects the priority of those making it, Republicans are wrong to see no practical sense in this one. The nation has great short-term needs.
But, at the same time, President Obama soon must come to terms with the need for serious entitlement reform. America’s long-term health demands it.
Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.