Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reduction of the US Deficit

I'll admit that I didn't listen or watch the State of the Union address last night. I caught bits and pieces on the news; I know that's not enough to really discuss, one way or the other, statements made there.

I feel I should comment on the the idea of a freeze on some government spending. My problem with this is that it's too little and in the wrong places. The cuts will only save a small fraction of our budget, ultimately amounting to little impact on the deficit, yet the programs that are affected are going to be hurt. It's not yet clear what those programs will be so I may end up eating a little crow here. Some of those programs are suggested to include things like transportation funding, state aid and money for social services.

State aid, especially for some of the states that have been hit hard by the recession or natural disasters (Sorry California), is something that will make passing a bill like this difficult. I'm sure it won't matter what party you belong to, if there is a threat to reduce or loose federal funds that were expected, the elected officials of those states are not going to be keen on voting for it or they will strip it out of the bill, further reducing its viability.

Social services will likely stir up a great deal of debate. There are many who feel it's not the responsibility of the government to fund such things. I won't argue this one without a better idea of the programs affected.

Transportation funding is something I'm very worried about. Have we so quickly forgotten about the Twin Cities bridge collapse? What about the reports from various states' departments of transportation that indicated a large percentage of the bridges we use every day in the United States are in need or repair or replacement? We pay our taxes and expect to have safe roads. Perhaps this is for the states to take care of but short of private toll roads and bridges, most states have a hard time finding the money in their budgets to take on these significant projects. It's not cheap to build bridges. Do we let our nations infrastructure further decay until there are more deaths?

What about better rail? We are still using the same lines as we did a hundred years ago. There are very few passenger systems because they are too slow and are not suited to commuting. This map shows the few Amtrak lines out there. I like the train. It's a nice way to travel but if I want to take a trip, with my wife, to California it will take nearly 40 hours and if I want a 'roomette' (a couple of bunk beds), it'll cost us nearly $1200. It's considerably more if you want a full room with bath and shower. This isn't 'luxury' travel. I don't know many people who'd want to be in a coach seat for 40 hours with no shower. We keep putting off transportation as a want but not a need because our roads aren't so bad. (yet!)

There is no doubt that government spending is out of control and that there are many programs that are wasteful and unnecessarily bureaucratic. What makes it difficult to correct those things is the people who can change it for the better frequently profit from it being mismanaged. But that is a different topic all together.

The spending freeze won't touch: Defense, Veterans Affairs, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security.
The only one I'm going to argue is the defense funding. The others I don't know well enough to argue the pros or the cons and would simply diminish the point I'm going for.

A large reason we are so in debt as a country right now is because we are at war. We have thousands of troops over seas that need our support, financially and emotionally. I have nothing against those soldiers. They are doing what they are asked and I respect that.

However, I do not believe we are doing the right thing continuing this war on terror. The War on Terror is like the War on Drugs. We can never, no NEVER, win. We cannot eliminate terrorists. We eliminate one cell and other pops up in another village or country. It's one set of ideals Vs. another set of ideals. You cannot beat ideals with guns, if anything it makes them stronger.

I've been critical of a lot of choices made. What do I suggest?

Why don't we first bring back our troops and put them to work securing our country. Forget having the TSA at the airport. Many countries around the world have soldiers at the airports all the time. These are well trained government agents. Can you say the same about all TSA agents? (No disrespect intended to the good TSA agents out there.) How about boarder patrol? Port control, etc. Secure our own borders with our own soldiers and we have less to worry about from external forces. And lets be honest for a second. Many groups hate the US, less because of our ideals, and more because we stick our nose where it doesn't belong.

Maybe if we are acting as the worlds police force we wouldn't have to spend quite as much on military hardware either. How many helicopters have gone down because of missiles or freaking sand? Those things are not cheap!

Second thing I would do is rebuild our internal infrastructure. You want to put people to work? Why not public works programs that build new bridges? How about better rail? How about working on a stronger power grid? These are all things that need to be done and would require workers of all education and skill level.

Yes, it would cost money to reinvest in our country, but wouldn't it be worth it? This is supposed to be the greatest country in the world but we are falling further and further behind other countries. The money we save on defense alone would help reduce the costs.

Both Democrats and Republicans are saying we need to spend less, yet no one seems to want to say the brutal truth. We are wasting money on things we don't need to be spending them on. War. Bank Bailouts. Auto Bailouts. Even the things that seem worth while are wasteful, either because of corruption or simply because of short sightedness.

This country is like a mansion that was built in the 1920s. It cared for and because of it's excellent designers and builders, is built strong. But even a well built mansion needs to be maintained all the time. The electrical systems would have to be replaced; the plumbing; the heating and air; the paint; the roof. You get my point. We have been spending too much time our of our mansion, bragging about how great it is to be rich and live in a mansion, that we have neglected both our bank account and the mansion. We need to get back home, roll up our sleeves and do some chores.

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