Budget bungling

Budgeting for the U.S. government has devolved into this: A series of political polemics disguised as budgets and issued by both parties; an understanding that these politicized budgets don’t stand a chance of passing but will be used as election-year ammunition; and a desperate hope that one more temporary budget compromise can be hammered out after the November election.

Colorado’s Legislature may not be the epitome of enlightened bipartisan cooperation, but it is a beacon of logic and sensibility compared to Washington, D.C., when it comes to budgeting.

While we are no fans of a federal balanced-budget amendment, for a variety of reasons, we understand why many U.S. citizens want something they believe will force Washington politicians to actually do their jobs. No wonder there are proposals floating around the Internet that suggest withholding politicians’ salaries until they pass a budget.

President Barack Obama’s budget, released this week, is a prime example of election-year politicking. Many observers expect it will never come to the Senate floor for a vote.

The problems with Obama’s budget are manyfold. For one thing, it uses numbers and projections that are dubious, at best. For instance, it relies on billions of dollars of cuts in defense spending that are supposed to occur next year. But Obama’s Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, has already said those cuts are unacceptable. People on both sides of the aisle are already looking at ways to reduce those cuts.

Obama’s budget also proposes to cut numerous tax breaks for various industries, such as oil and gas, even as it offers new tax breaks for other favored industries.

And that represents one of the most serious problems with the president’s budget. Although it would raise taxes on people making more than $200,000 a year, on investors and corporations, it does nothing to reform or simplify the tax code.

Second, and even more important, it does nothing to address spiraling costs for things like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And it only takes thin slices out of the federal debt, while projecting even larger debt in a decade.

Without serious debt reduction, we face a future like Greece.

This is not a screed on behalf of Republican budget efforts. Unless there is a drastic change from previous proposals, the GOP plans will be heavy on spending cuts and won’t include needed revenue increases, even those that could come from revamping the tax code. But at least they have attempted to address Medicaid and Medicare costs in the past year.

Former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson will be in Grand Junction Monday to speak at Colorado Mesa University. Simpson is one of the co-authors of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, which did seriously address tax reform and cuts in entitlement spending.

Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles were cochairmen of a commission created by Obama to recommend ways to in the federal debt. Unfortunately, both the president and Republican leaders ignored those recommendations.

Here’s hoping Simpson, Bowles and others can rekindle interest in such a plan, especially in an election year.


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