Jewish World Review Nov 14, 2011 / 17 Mar-Cheshvan 5772
With Congress, expect more intransigence
By Dan K. Thomasson
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It was always problematic whether the so-called supercommittee charged with designing a major debt-reduction scheme would be able to do so. The odds against the 50-50 bipartisan panel meeting the Thanksgiving deadline get longer daily, much to the consternation of the Pentagon, where mandatory cuts would fall.
The defense budget would take a $500 billion hit if the committee's Republicans and Democrats fail to free themselves from the debilitating glue that has stuck each in seemingly rigid positions, with Republicans rejecting any attempt to include raising taxes and Democrats just as solidly opposed to reforming entitlements Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid as part of any reduction plan.
Meanwhile, this glorious mess brought about by inglorious lawmakers finds both members and nonmembers of the panel frantically preparing legislation that would stop the assault on the Pentagon budget. There seems to be nothing that would prevent them from supplanting the Pentagon cuts with budget reductions elsewhere -- wherever that is.
At least one member of the supercommittee, Sen. John Kyl, Republican of Arizona, has made it clear he has no intention of letting the cuts take place. Another Republican, Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, has drafted legislation that would replace the military cuts with reductions in other programs.
Ironically, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta -- in several other government capacities, including congressman and White House aide -- was a strong advocate of reducing military spending. That's seems substantial proof that if you stay long enough anywhere, what goes around comes around.
The object of all of this was to knock $1.2 trillion off the deficit to comply with the compromise that raised the debt limit just before the August recess. That exercise supplied the public with enough heartburn to last a lifetime and send antacid stocks soaring. But the factors present in that unseemly political debacle didn't disappear with the agreement to appoint the supercommittee. All the same issues of taxes vs. entitlements vs. spending are still present. Not even pleading and begging by a pack of experts on both sides of the political aisle seem to make any difference.
Common-sense appeals by former budget directors from past administrations, both Republican and Democrat, failed to budge the committee toward agreement. And the co-chairmen of a presidential commission, whose dictates President Obama has pretty much ignored, have gotten nowhere. All have suggested a balanced approach that would increase revenues through tax action, adjust Social Security and Medicare to meet the current age demographic and reduce spending at all levels.
The fact is, defense spending has plenty of give without destroying our military viability. The decision to end any occupation of Iraq should save dramatically, and it seems doubtful that our presence in Afghanistan will continue for much longer. Together, these wars have drained billions upon billions from the treasury. Waste and cost overruns are quite large in military contracts and duplications are standard. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Panetta's predecessor, acknowledged that he could no longer support a freewheeling defense budget that is greater than that of all our allies combined.
At the same time, military strategists charge that an indiscriminately large reduction in the Pentagon's budget as triggered by the debt reduction bill could leave the nation vulnerable. The nation's military industrial complex has been lobbying full tilt against the cuts, noting with some validity that such action also would set back efforts to increase employment.
As for the entitlement programs, the country's strongest lobbying arm, led by AARP, seems adamantly opposed to any change despite the aging model of both Social Security and Medicare, at least as part of any plan agreed to by the supercommittee. It is doubtful that any such initiative will be taken before the election, if ever.
The gray lobby is backed by a whopping 50 million voters, most of whom exercise their franchise, unlike the 18- to 34-year-old group, many of whose members don't believe they will ever receive benefits from these programs. Americans can expect more of the congressional intransigence that left them furious last summer.
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