Time for common sense on both sides of cliff talk

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Both sides seem more focused on talking points than facts

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
Before, we get started here, my thoughts and prayers to the people of Newtown, Conn. It is a community so much like so many parts of Chester County, it is impossible not to feel both sympathy and horror.

As a parent, it chills the blood. I’m not sure there was anything different that could have been done by school officials — or that we need to see any massive changes in how we run our schools. I pray somewhere, somehow, some good ultimately comes of this — but it is very difficult to see how, right now.

Sometimes, there just are no words…so we send our love and prayers to everyone hurting this morning.

* * *

Moving on to more mundane topics such as our looming “Fiscal cliff,” which, and I never thought this possible, is a relief to focus on for a few minutes.

Clearly, though, we have a problem here.

Democrats blame the Republicans, Republicans blame the Democrats and on it goes. But at the end of the day, it struck me as I was covering a protest the other day in East Marlborough at U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts’ office, that, really we — you and I — are to blame.

We as voters haven’t taken the time to really look at the numbers and decide what the priorities should be, instead falling back on whatever four-second sound bite sounds about right to us, whether its left or right. And then we reenforce that by only getting our news from sources that agree with that one world view.

And those worldviews have been increasingly hijacked by extreme right and left voices — leaving us with, approximately, the choice of supporting Fidel Castro’s Workers Paradise or William McKinley’s Corporatist America, when frankly, both stink.

And so here we are, up to our hips in a mess, stuck with a stagnant economy and leadership in Washington so spooked to do anything because it might not pass a “purity test” that nothing gets done.

Both parties need to start asking the questions publicly that they’re starting to ask privately. And we need to let them.

For Republicans, isn’t it time to toss Grover Nordquist overboard? Where’s your allegiance? America or Nordquist’s blatant power grab and his ego? Here’s an awful fact: as Americans we’re not overtaxed. The combined tax burden — that’s local, state and federal — on citizens is lower now than at any time since 1960.

And where’s the economy? Trashed.

I find it a mix of sad, pathetic and hilarious when I read the Tea Party missives in my in-box that cite President Calvin Coolidge as their muse and hero of economics (for those of you keeping score at home, his brilliant economic policies caused The Great Depression). That’s a bit like citing Michael Vick as a paragon of pet care.

Cutting taxes doesn’t stimulate the economy unless we’re overtaxed. We’re not. There’s a sweet spot — which despite the naysayers claims in 1993 — was set during the Clinton Administration. Clinton raised taxes (which passed by a single vote, and ended any number of Congressional careers) and….wait for it….the economy boomed.

George W. Bush was elected and cut taxes and…wait for it…the economy stalled and then crashed in 2008.

These are facts and it’s high time someone pointed them out.

But the Democrats, my soon to be former party (I’ve discovered I’m a Whig) aren’t off the hook.

While we may not have a tax problem, we do clearly have a spending problem. When we bring in $2.4 trillion and spend $3.7 trillion, it’s an issue and one tax hikes alone won’t fix. 62% of the federal government is entitlement program spending.

That needs to change.

Like it or not, both Medicare and Social Security were designed in a different era — one in which people lived shorter lives. The simple logic of reality is this: eligibility ages need to change from 65 to 70 because the math no longer supports the design of the program.

Just for clarity’s sake, I’ll repeat it: people live longer, so the eligibility ages need to change.

And yes, the time has come for “means testing” — rich folks shouldn’t get benefits. If you have investment income over, say, $250,000 you don’t get Social Security. If you’re in that income bracket, you don’t get Medicare for free — but you should have the option of buying in (something, by the way, that should be an option for everyone, and again, because younger people are healthy, improve the revenue to expense ratio for the program).

To be sure, government needs to be cut. Not to drag it to the bathtub and drown it, but more like the way we cut back a rose bush, so it can grow back stronger and healthy. Right now, the federal government is a mess — sickly and wasteful, like a rose bush left unattended for 20 years. There are numerous areas where government overreaches — stormwater management, anyone? — and strangles business and innovation.

This is not to say the process won’t be painful. We’ll cut things we need and need to restore them. But we’ll also cut things we were sure we couldn’t do without — and it will turn out we could.

So, yes, we need to cut across the board, including defense — where we have duplicate, expensive and often ineffective programs forced on us by members of Congress putting their district and maybe a few campaign contributions over the national good.

The savings will allow us to cut the deficit, spend money on desperately needed infrastructure and spend in a logical, sensible way on things that actually grow our economy and create jobs.

These are facts and it’s high time someone pointed them out.

To fix this mess, everyone is going to have to swallow hard and live with something they don’t like, including, we the public at large. And we need to reward those who are trying to honestly talk about fixing things, rather than immediately plan to challenge them in a primary for not hewing to a narrow worldview.

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Tags: budget, Democrats, Fiscal Cliff, Republicans, spending, tax policy
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One Response

  1. I’m pleased to see that covering our protest at Rep. Joe Pitts’ office stimulated thoughtful introspection on your part.

    There is just one comment I would like to offer regarding your suggestion of raising the Social Security age from 65 to 70 because we are living longer. In fact, it is the wealthy that are living longer (see http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2012/10/23-inequality-life-expectancy-burtless).

    It is working people and laborers — those whose bodies take the most wear and tear during their lifetimes — who are not benefitting from the overall increase in life expectancy. Raising the retirement age on them would be both cruel and unfair.

    So let’s continue to look for balanced ways to manage our social insurance programs (yes, they are “insurance” programs for which we pay premiums, and not “entitlements”) by examining both costs and revenues.

    Thank you for your (on balance!) reasonable comments.

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