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Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

It's time to make tough decisions

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The much-anticipated Deficit Commission is expected to report in December on steps needed to control our runaway spending economy in this country. There are early signs that the group will make some radical, though much-needed, recommendations on our economic future.

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security top the entitlement list targeted for reform. And by reform we mean cuts and higher taxes to keep these programs in place.

It's no coincidence that the Commission report comes in December following the November elections. No politician is interested in running on a platform of entitlement cuts even though that is exactly what is needed.

The most likely forecast for the blue-ribbon Commission is that it will produce a plan over which everyone can find fault. That's simply the political reality of politicians protecting their constituencies. Of course, that protective road will someday soon come to a dead end though it seems few in Washington are too concerned.

The eventual plan will likely target the haves - a reduction or elimination in home mortgage deductions and some forms of financial means testing for Medicare. But it may also hit the have nots - an elimination of the earned income tax credit.

Crop subsidies may take a hit in the Commission report and virtually all forms of tax breaks for corporations will be examined.

But the sad political reality is that the Commission report will have no binding impact on Congress. Like dozens of similar efforts in the past, the report will provide a blurry roadmap with no power to mandate change. Politicians are prone to ignore the obvious train-wreck for the sake of their political futures.

The report will pit the haves against the have nots, the young against the elderly and the liberal spenders against the conservative fiscal advocates. In other words, little will change.

If we want serious reform before it's too late - assuming we are still at that point - we must adopt radical changes immediately.

Social Security retirement age should increase, there should be some financial entry level for Medicare, Medicaid should be fully revamped, earned income tax credit should be revisited, etc. These are the very same recommendations most Americans would suggest given our doomsday forecast on America's financial future.

With the Bush tax cuts set to expire in January, the Commission report to be released in December and the lame duck Congress that well could precede a GOP majority come January, December has the makings of an interesting month on the political front.

But having spent a lifetime on the fringes of the political world, I know this much. Governments at all levels - including federal, state and local - are notorious for establishing commissions to do the heavy lifting and then ignoring the findings while their reports gather dust on a shelf.

With a $14 trillion debt in this nation, we can no longer ignore the tough decisions. But if we think we can simply continue to soak the rich and spend our way out of debt, we are doomed to our own excesses.

Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen