I am a non-ideological fiscal conservative and social moderate. I agree with Republicans on some issues and Democrats on others. It seems to me that there is a lot of common ground between the two national parties and plenty of opportunity for working together.
The economy. Donald Trump was elected President with the support of blue-collar workers. He wants to help them out by speeding up economic growth. But the Democrats also want to give a boost to the working class. Why not lower the corporate tax rate to encourage multi-national companies to bring their profits back to the U.S.? Why not exempt small community banks from Dodd-Frank so they can lend more money to main street businesses?
Sustainable healthcare. After failing to repeal and replace the ACA, Republicans now have to accept that universal health insurance is here to stay even though it needs much better cost control. The popularity of employer provided health insurance makes single payer healthcare unacceptable to many. Two major changes are needed to lower healthcare costs. The ACA Cadillac tax should be replaced by an upper limit on the tax exemption for employer provided insurance. The Medicare Part B premium covers only 25% of the cost of that program and should be increased on a means adjusted basis.
Immigration policy. With the unemployment rate now 4.4% and dropping, a huge labor shortage is beginning to develop which will retard economic growth. We now need more skilled and unskilled immigrants alike. An expanded guest-worker program to meet the needs of employers should be created. Enhanced border security can be part of the mix.
Military spending. In a dangerous world we need a strong military defense. But there is a lot of waste in the Pentagon budget. Do we really need 800 foreign bases in over 70 different countries? Nebraska’s own Chuck Hagel identified $25 billion a year in military waste while he was Secretary of Defense.
Conclusion. Here are just a few ways that the two parties can work together to address some of our biggest national problems. Faster economic growth and fiscal restraint just make common sense.
The United States faces many challenging problems but the biggest one of all is our national debt, right now 77% of GDP, the largest since right after WWII, and predicted by the Congressional Budget Office to keep getting steadily worse without major changes in current policy.
The only practical way to reduce the debt is to start shrinking our annual deficits, $680 billion for the current 2017, down to a much lower level, ideally close to zero, over a limited time period, perhaps ten years or so. This urgent need will, of course, be very difficult to accomplish.
Military spending. The military analyst, Mark Helprin, makes a cogent argument that the most effective way to defuse the North Korean nuclear threat is for President Trump to ask Congress “for an emergency increase in funding to correct the longstanding degradation of American military power.” This would, among other things, provide for “a vigorous acceleration of every aspect of ballistic-missile defense.”
Omaha Rapid Bus Transit. Omaha NE (where I live) is spending $15 million in local funds for a $30 million bus system upgrade, subsidized by the Federal Transit Authority, which has an annual budget of $8.6 billion. The new ORBT will have sleek 60 foot-long buses as well as 27 individual modern bus stop shelters at a cost of $260,000 each. The system will be operational in 2018 and Mayor Jean Stothert says, “I’m looking forward to being one of the first riders.”
Conclusion. Who can argue with upgrading ballistic-missile defense at a time when we are threatened by a madman in North Korea? And, it is nice for Omaha to have a sleek modern rapid transit bus system on Dodge Street but should it be 50% subsidized by the federal government at a time when the U.S. is drowning in debt? There will always be enormous pressure on Congress to increase funding for popular projects.
Who is going to stand up and say no?
An Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal recently by former vice president Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz, “Congress and Obama Depleted the Military,” argues that the Trump budget request of $603 billion for Defense for the 2017 – 2018 FY is not nearly enough to build an adequate U.S. military force. Furthermore, the Cheneys argue that the Budget Control Act of 2011, which set up the ten year sequestration plan for discretionary budget items, should be repealed.
According to the Cheneys, “Providing for the defense of America is the most sacred constitutional obligation of the U.S. Congress. If Congress fails in this, no balanced budget, no health-care reform, no tax reform, no entitlement reform will matter.”
The Cheneys are correct that the defense of America is the highest priority of our federal government. But fiscal responsibility is also a high priority, especially when our public debt (on which we pay interest) now stands at 77% of GDP, the largest it has been since the end of WWII, and rising.
So the real question is: how large should our defense budget be to provide for a secure defense of our national interests? A recent article in the New York Times points out that:
Our current defense budget of $596 billion is more than the total of the next seven highest defense budgets combined.
We have 1.3 million active duty troops with 200,000 deployed in more than 170 countries.
The U.S. has 2,200 fighter jets, 193 of which are fifth generation, F-35 Lightening II aircraft.
The U.S. Navy has 275 surface ships and submarines, including 11 aircraft carriers, far more than any other single country.
Conclusion. The current U.S. military force is large and diversified. In fact there is strong evidence that it could operate more efficiently. It is more than adequate to defend our crucial national interests.
Senator Fischer is up for re-election in 2018 and she starts out a recent fund raising letter (see below) as follows: “My goals are clear: stronger national defense, safer roads and bridges, healthcare that is accessible and affordable, protection of our fundamental liberties, less government, and a fairer, simpler tax code.” Here’s the breakdown:
First, and most important: national security.
Second, our roads and bridges must be repaired and rebuilt.
Third, Obamacare must be repealed and replaced.
Fourth, our fundamental liberties must be protected.
Fifth, government must shrink and the tax code must be simpler and fairer.
I don’t disagree with the specifics of any of these five goals but rather where the emphasis is placed. Her first two goals are to greatly increase spending for both the military and for infrastructure projects. Her last goal is to shrink the federal government which is a good idea but very hard to accomplish in practice.
Here is the basic problem our national debt (the public part on which we pay interest) is now at 77% of GDP, the highest it has been since right after WWII, and steadily getting worse. Right now this approximately $14 trillion debt is essentially “free” money because interest rates are so low. But when interest rates inevitably rise to more normal levels, interest payments on the debt will soar by hundreds of billions of dollars per year and eat much more deeply into tax revenue.
It should be a very high priority for Congress to establish a plan to bring government spending more closely in line with tax revenue. I have previously described how this could be accomplished over a ten year period without cutting hardly anything but simply using restraint for spending increases.
Conclusion. If Senator Fisher feels that it is necessary to make big spending increases in areas such as national defense and infrastructure repair, then she should be equally adamant about the need to hold down the growth of government spending overall.