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Monday, October 14, 2013
I have to disagree with the recent guest opinion (“The new red menace: deficit spending,” Sept. 25 commentary) on the problem of the deficit.
The deficit is not the cause of our economic downturn but the result of our stumbling economy, weighted down as it is by unproductive tax expenditures and decreased tax revenues, and hamstrung by wildly skewed income and wealth levels. All of which curtail economic activity. Add in the House of Representatives’ lack of enthusiasm for job-producing, long-term infrastructure projects, and indeed all government spending, and we have all the prescription we need to ensure long-term snail’s pace growth with resultant stunted revenues. It is truncated revenue that is the larger part of the deficit problem. In the long run, this is a self-defeating regime. The desire for a smaller government will come with the consequence of a smaller economy. To most of us, that is a concern.
I agree there are positive steps to be taken even in these negative circumstances. Of course, we should continue to reduce redundant spending by improving the effectiveness and efficiency of Social Security, Medicare and the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act. It should be noted that the private sector does not have exclusive rights to the tactic of constant improvement. Public institutions (or any nonprofit organization) can also draw from that well with equal benefit. It is all about process and goals. In this quest, the component of cost/benefit analysis has its place.
The trick is to trim or at least contain costs while maintaining or improving benefits (services). If a given program cannot achieve a favorable ratio, try a better program or something else that does achieve the desired effect. The need for a solution is not being abandoned, nor is it an excuse to short-change beneficiaries, or wages, for that matter. The goal is to improve services or outcomes while cutting costs. In government, as in the private sector, it is rare to have already achieved the optimum.
Considering these circumstances, there should be no debt ceiling compromise promising more forced counterproductive slashes to the budget. Let the drive for efficiency and cost/benefit analysis sort out spending levels. This is preferable to subjecting spending levels entirely to politicians who don’t want effective and efficient programs. They want no programs at all. The talk about trimming the deficit is the cover story. The goal is no ACA, no Medicare and no Social Security. This is the intent of the “Starve the Beast” strategy.
Better in their estimation to move the power of government to the more amendable state legislatures, in some cases already captured by powerful interests. The “beauty” of that strategy is they don’t need to capture every state. In the absence of federal oversight, controlling just a few states may suffice, at least to begin with. They have their eyes on their prize, and they are patient, engineering the slow ratcheting bloodless coup we cannot seem to believe that we are seeing.
As suggested in the guest opinion expressed in this paper on Sept. 27, (“Members of Congress should act like adults”) President Obama, the reluctant litigant, could use Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to end the periodic threat of default once and for all. Though success in the courts may not be a sure thing, Sections 4 and 5 make a strong case that Congress has no constitutional business questioning the public debt in the first place. “The validity of the public debt . . . shall not be questioned.” This is from Section 4. Section 5 charges Congress with the responsibility to see that the debt payment is not obstructed, that is, Congress is constitutionally charged with enforcing Section 4. (No mention of the executive branch.) True, this is interpretive. How does the Supreme Court define “validity”? How does the court define “questioned”? Well, we don’t know. The Constitution should be given the chance to defend itself.
So far, the president has remained steady and composed in his reasoned opposition, letting the extremists dash against that rock. With respect to the debt-ceiling showdown, it might be a bigger gamble not to go to court than to go to court, even with a conservative, corporatist court. At least maintaining the threat of constitutional litigation would be politic. The rule of law tends to quell insurrectionists. While speaking relatively softly, the president, the Senate or the House Democrats should at least be quietly prepared to defend the Constitution, to brandish the big stick of the 14th Amendment, Sections 4 and 5.
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