Andrew Oberstar

The Budget and The Gang of Six

April 17, 2011

I was reading the Star Tribune today, which had a few budget related articles. One was related to the Gang of Six who is trying to get a bipartisan budget deal going. (Note: this is actually an NY Times article) They also mentioned the NY Times budget calculator from November. I played around with it for a while (here’s my plan), which surprising to me required less tax increases than I thought I would have picked. One thing is clear to me after using the tool; something is wrong with Medicare. Admittedly, I have no knowledge of what the effect of the cuts or taxes I chose would beyond the numbers the Times gives. Obviously, it’s also a very simplistic view of a complex issue. But it’s good to give the public a taste of what those choices are like.

I decided to do a little research on this since I don’t spend much time reading (or watching) the news. I downloaded Paul Ryan’s (House Budget Committee) Path to Prosperity plan. I got through the summary before giving up. It reads like a campaign message, and spends most of the time attacking Obama. While I’m generally pro-Obama, I don’t believe he is above criticism. However, I feel like the people in charge of our budget should spend a little more time doing their job rather than trying to keep their job (naive, huh?).

With that in my rear view mirror, I moved on to the Bowles-Simpson plan, from the Fiscal Commission (which contained four of the Gang of Six members) last fall. The preamble, with its promises of bipartisan compromise, has me happy already. I actually managed to finish this one, though a majority of it was over my head. The most important quote comes in the Preamble:

The problem is real. The solution will be painful. There is no easy way out. Everything must be on the table.

Interestingly, even though I only read the summary of Ryan’s plan, there was some language that was shared between the two (note, Ryan was on the fiscal commission). I’m very much behind the spirit and framework of Bowles-Simpson, and wish we would just get on with it. It seems like a lot of the proposal was based on simplifying things (i.e. the tax code). While many tax breaks are meant to help middle America, they only benefit people who understand taxes or who can afford to pay someone who does. I certainly don’t, though I’m not in a position where I really need to yet.

One of the things that is likely unpopular with the public is raising the Medicare and Social Security ages. Nobody wants to work longer (duh), but if we live longer we can’t expect that money to rain out of the sky. There isn’t really any fair way to cut those programs; everyone that has paid into those programs has a reasonable expectation to get something out of it when their time comes. But just because it’s unpopular doesn’t lessen the need for reform.

The general Republican stance of “no new taxes” is clearly not an option (same with the Democrats protection of all things spending). And importantly the “Gang of Six” that is working in the Senate to put together a true bipartisan plan (with compromise from both sides) seems like the closest thing to implementing the fiscal commission’s recommendation. This NPR article has a good intro.

Here’s to hoping they pull it off…