Sunday, Oct. 30 column

Profiles in (incremental) courage
Editorial Page Editor
SEVEN U.S. senators tried to inject a little sanity into the federal budget last week. We can take pride in the fact that two of them were from South Carolina.
    Aside from Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, the group of Republicans included John McCain of Katrinacost_2 Arizona, John Ensign of Nevada, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John Sununu of New Hampshire.
    Their proposals don’t go nearly far enough. But the sad truth is that by Washington standards, the initiative by these seven counts as a really bold move.
    They would:

  • Freeze cost-of-living pay raises for federal employees (including Congress), except those in the military and law enforcement.
  • Delay implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, set to begin in 2006. Lower-income folks would still get $1,200 to help pay for medicine, while upper brackets would pay higher Medicare premiums a year earlier than planned.
  • Eliminate $24 billion worth of earmarked pork projects in the recent $286 billion highway bill.
  • Cut discretionary — that is, non-entitlement — spending by 5 percent across the board, exempting only national security.

    Fine, as far as it goes. But consider:

  • This is billed as a way to pay for Katrina relief. It would free up $125 billion. But with a deficit of $318.62 billion in fiscal 2005, and a bigger deficit projected in the year just begun, these moves would be inadequate if we didn’t spend a dime on disaster aid.
  • Folks in Washington were actually celebrating the fact that the deficit was only $318.62 billion. It was expected to be higher. But it’s still the third-highest deficit in history, though dwarfed by the $412.85 billion shortfall in 2004. Another South Carolinian, Democratic Rep. John Spratt, noted that the Bush administration had once predicted a $269 billion surplus for 2005. As he told The Washington Post, that means 2005 turned out “$588 billion worse than the Bush administration projected when it sent up its first budget in 2001.”
  • The new drug benefit should not be merely delayed. It should be thrown out. The original cost projection of $400 billion over 10 years has risen to more than $720 billion. The legislation deliberately avoided obvious steps to lower drug prices, even forbidding the government to use its purchasing clout to force down costs. Kicking this can down the road doesn’t solve the problem.
  • Speaking of can-kicking: Baby boomers will soon start retiring in droves. And nothing has been done yet to pay for their Social Security and Medicare.
  • While federal employees still serving their country would lose raises, those who have retired from federal service will get a 4.1 percent increase in their pension checks starting in January. Nothing against retirees, but this is the biggest cost-of-living increase in 15 years. Is this the time for it?
  • About 48 million Social Security recipients will also get a 4.1 percent increase in the coming year — the biggest since 1991. What with higher energy costs, I doubt that many will be taking luxury cruises on an average hike of $39 a month. Still, do you expect a pay raise of 4.1 percent in the coming year? I don’t, and I don’t think I’m in the minority.
  • Any across-the-board cut — a favorite remedy on the state level in South Carolina — is a cop-out. It avoids tough decisions, and hurts efficient, vital functions of government just as badly as wasteful programs that should be eliminated entirely. If senators can exempt national security (which they should), they can go further and specify what gets cut and what doesn’t elsewhere.
  • Rethinking tax cuts — some of them, anyway (such as $70 billion in new ones proposed in the 2006 budget) — should at least be on the table. Republicans believe religiously that they are necessary to prosperity. I’m an agnostic on this point. It makes sense that some tax cuts would give a kick to the economy. Of course, so can federal spending. Maybe that’s why the GOP has pursued both courses so zealously since gaining control of the political branches. But I can’t believe all tax cuts are created equal in terms of their salutary economic effect. To refuse to reconsider any of them is to be blinded by ideology.

    I don’t expect any of my concerns to gain serious traction on the Hill. The modest proposals put forth by the sensible seven were, of course, immediately assailed by Democrats. Our own Rep. Jim Clyburn complained that these cuts would be unfair to poor and middle-class citizens.
    But Democrats always say things like that. What’s more relevant is what Republicans do, since they’re running the show. And what they’ve done is cut taxes while presiding over the biggest expansion of the federal government (not counting the military, which should have expanded) since Lyndon Johnson. Remember the huge intrusion into state and local affairs called No Child Left Behind? The latest farm bill? The $223 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska (merely a symbol of billions in spending on unnecessary asphalt)?
    Speaking of LBJ — we’re at war, folks. Everybody, rich and poor, should be giving up something Katrinacost2_2 to help us win it. Our volunteer military is doing its part, but almost no one else is.
    As for Katrina relief, the Republican leadership is talking about maybe cutting $50 billion or so — an absurdity in times when we consider deficits of over six times that worthy of applause.
    So what Sens. Graham and DeMint and five others are talking about deserves our praise and encouragement. It might not go far enough, but at least they want to do away with the Alaska bridge. That’s a start.

19 thoughts on “Sunday, Oct. 30 column

  1. Dave

    Brad, It would be nothing short of inspiring to see the Congress cut some spending anywhere in the list you noted above. I am sure we will hear the usual “the sky is falling” predictions however from any group that stands to lose any spending. Most people have a few favorites that they would like to see cut. The group of seven are showing some courage by just suggesting any cutting. Rest assured the demagoguery will begin soon about their heartlessness and cruel thinking. Look at the base closings, if the politicians had to personally stand up and agree on closing bases, we would never have a base closed, ever. Maybe the spending reductions should be administered the same way.

    A very small group of Alan Greenspan, Sam Nunn, Robert Rubin, and Paul Voelker would be a good commission to bring some sanity. Suggestions – eliminate Amtrak, eliminate the Fed. Dept of Education, begin admission charges on every federal park, to name a few.

  2. Mark Whittington


    What gets me about your writing is that you supposedly honor the sacrifice of the all volunteer military, yet you are either indifferent to or hostile towards the class interests of those who actually do the fighting. Those of us who have actually served in the military know that the burden of military service falls on America’s poor and working classes. We also know that the working class joins the military mostly because of poor economic prospects at home. If you really want to support the troops, then why don’t you support their parents by advocating their right to unionize (without being fired from their jobs or being replaced), for example? When folks leave the military, they end up in factories or in low paying service or government jobs. Why don’t you support the troops by fighting against the backward trade policies of Jim DeMint and Joe Wilson that kill or outsource American jobs?

    Your writings disturb me because of their fascist overtones. Fascism, by its nature, tries to ameliorate and assuage class prejudice by honoring the poor and working classes only in the military sense when united against a common enemy. You could care less about they guy wielding the M-16 when he returns home to find a system set up against him: tax policies that favor the wealthy and corporations, anti-union state and federal law, companies that increasingly either violate or circumvent the Fair Labor Standards Act by enforcing a de-facto 50 hour work-week at low pay, etc.

    When the Bush administration by executive order recently suspended the Davis-Bacon Act in a brash attempt to even further lower the wages of desperate American workers, where were you and The State editorial board? Not so long ago, when I tried to receive my VA benefits, only to find that Bush and the Republican congress had in effect eliminated my VA benefits, where were you?

    What have you been doing during the entire forty-year Republican economic war against the working class and the poor? I talk to young veterans all the time who are amazed to learn how just thirty-five years ago it was normal for a man to have a job out of high school with which he could support a wife, kids, own a decent house and car, and still save 5%! Young veterans are just blown-away by this-they leave the military and end up with low paying crap jobs-as do their spouses. They often work two or three jobs at long hours for low pay. Once good paying manufacturing jobs are gone, and they are left with the crumbs.

    I often become depressed when telling these folks the truth: the decline of the working class started with the trickle down policies (which evolved into Globalization) of the Reagan administration. The tax burden shift from the wealthy and corporations via the reduction of capital gains taxes, corporate taxes, and inheritance taxes was passed down to ordinary people via increased payroll, sales, and property taxes. The corresponding shift in wealth from the middle and working classes to a supper wealthy elite over time enervated and eviscerated the prospects of the working class all together, while seriously stunting opportunity for even the professional middle class. You know things are getting bad when you see engineers and programmers being overcome with debt while their jobs are being outsourced wholesale to India.

    Where was The State when all of this was happening? Perhaps The State still lives in 1914. Perhaps the supposed “centrist” pre-New Deal philosophy of The State’s editor and hand picked editorial board do not serve the community well. Perhaps the real political opposition never gets a voice against a well-funded, pro-corporate Chamber of Commerce and Republican smear machine. You ask others who have never served in the military (you had asthma, if I remember correctly) to contribute something-yet what have you contributed; a neo-conservative, war mongering philosophy? Why encourage the class of people who fill the ranks of the military to get themselves killed or injured, when you won’t lift a finger to stave off the corporate interests that prey upon the sons and daughters of the working class? I want to know.

  3. Steve Aiken

    I am not a Marxist either (I’ mostly a disgruntled shareholder who observes with dismay how entrenched miserable corporate management has become). Recently The Economist (a journal that cannot be accused of reflexive anti-Americanism) did a study of social mobility in which it concluded that, arguably, several European nations show greater social mobility than does the U.S. Among the possible explanations are that, over time, influential groups in society develop ways of reinforcing their relative position in ways that constrict the channels of upward mobility for those who don’t belong. Because a lot of Federal spending flows to large companies run by the “elite”, it becomes almost impossible to effect large reductions in spending. Eliminating Amtrak or the Department of Education would reduce spending, but in terms of where high-powered Federal spending goes, it would be a negligible change in overall government spending patterns.

  4. Lee

    Congress cannot even elminate the useless bridges of Ted Stevens (AK) and James Clyburn (Bluff Road).
    The really big spending of Medicare (22,000% over its original projection for 2005) and Social Security ( a Ponzi scheme that is destroying retirement for all Americans) seem to be immune from reform. Every politician just hopes he can get his retirement check into a foreign bank before the system goes bust.

  5. Nathan

    Mark, I have to admit that I struggle to understand what you and people like you think the proper role of government should be. Here is what I think I am understanding based on your posting above:
    The federal government should tax corporations to the point where they are unable to hire new workers, leaving tens of millions more in this country unemployed. Fortunately, since the government has all of those tax revenues, they can just pay people to sit at home. The government should then prevent any foreign goods from entering the country, therefore relegating people all over the world to poverty, starvation, and slavery. Finally, any enterprising person dumb enough to work late nights, study hard in school, make good decisions, and be marketable in thier careers should be taxed to the point where they make the same as that guy who sat behind them in 11th grade English shooting spitballs, smoking pot, and cutting class. Is that a fairly accurate description?
    Look, the class warfare stuff is stupid, and frankly, it isn’t really worth serious debate. People in this country have plenty of opportunities afforded to them to accomplish all that they want. I personally am a professional whose father is a truckdriver. He taught me values of hard work and dedication, and made sure that I got the education that I would need to compete in the market place. For that, I will always be indebted to him. The bottom line though, is that I have accomplished what I have because of my hard work, not because of some liberal government program.
    As for your argument that 35 years ago you could support a family on a high school education, have you considered yet that it may be liberal policy much more than any Republican war? I think that those same 35 years have shown that the entitlement culture and welfare state are not working. People are being taxed more and more to support your “programs”. Don’t you think that someone with a $40,000 a year salary would have an easier time supporting thier family if thousands of those dollars didn’t have to go to the government?
    And as for your argument that the tax system favors the rich and corporations, get off of the left wing websites and look at the actual tax code. I am a CPA. The rich guy gets hammered. The rich guy pays a higher rate, gets no earned income credit, loses deductions, often pays double what you do in FICA, and then has to pay a professional like me to decipher the complex, archaic tax code. So until you have any actual numbers that show that the rich are gettting a good deal on taxes, just drop that line.
    To wrap up, let me just say that you need to be a little more thankful that we have the capitalist machine that produces successful companies to employ Americans. If it weren’t for those “evil” corporations “preying on our sons and daughters”, our “sons and daughters” would be begging on the street corner rather than chasing the American Dream.

  6. Phillip

    The initiative by the seven senators is a promising first step, with several worthy proposals. Across-the-board cuts may be a cop-out, but in the current partisan climate it might be the best that can be hoped for. And you’re right that undoing certain tax cuts must be on the table for discussion. If they are not, then this proposal cannot be said to be a serious move towards addressing the deficit. Here exists an opportunity for genuine bipartisan cooperation, so Democrats should accept some cuts, possibly across-the-board ones in discretionary spending, and Republicans should accept rescinding some tax cuts.
    And a “right on” to Steve. You don’t have to be a Marxist to acknowledge the reality of class in the United States. The idea (precious to fans of unrestrained capitalism) that the US is a classless society is a total delusion. That it is a myth is obvious to anybody who has eyes, ears, and a mind that they’re willing to use. Social and economic mobility is not nearly as universal a story as the media (fueled by advertising which relies on this myth) portrays it to be. By the way, why is it that those who decry “class warfare” are always members of the “right” class?
    Some may roll their eyes when Jim Clyburn complains about these cuts being “unfair to poor and middle-class citizens,” and say, well “but Democrats always say things like that.” Well, if not them, who? The powerful have a seat at the table in this administration like never before. Lobbyists have easy access to the corridors of power, but who speaks for those who have the least, for those striving to play by the rules but falling further and further behind?
    The silliest phrase I’ve heard recently in political discourse is “compassionate conservative.” If I were a conservative politician, I would never use that phrase, because the implication is that the modifier is necessary to distinguish oneself from a “regular conservative” who would then be, by definition, compassion-less. It’s always been amusing to me because this is a case when political doublespeak is unintentionally illuminating.

  7. Mike C

    As you pointed out, our senatorial duo done good with the bridge vote. I’ve written Senators DeMint and Graham, as well as Rep. Wilson, about recalling the highway bill, a goal of Porkbusters, as I recounted here. To date none has responded with anything other than a general “Glad to hear from you.”
    Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, does seem serious, even going so far as to try to stop Congress from using CDC money to build a Japanese garden as part of an upgrade to a federal building in Atlanta. He thought the money could go to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. What does he know, he’s only a physician in his first term in the Senate.
    Hey, one of my best friends is of Japanese descent, but can’t our civil servants make do with some sod and a couple of azaleas? What interesting about the Atlanta project is that the administration asked for $30 million, but Coburn noticed that when the bill reached the Senate floor, it was up to $225 million. I guess inflation really is getting out of hand.
    You are correct that to succeed in cutting the budget, everyone has to feel the pain. Yet it disappoints me to report that some members of Congress are so arrogant and so powerful that few will stand up to them. Don Young (R – Alaska) can say with a straight face, “That money is not there! That money is for transportation! That is not added pork… This is grandstanding by individuals that don’t know what they’re talking about… It’s ignorance and stupidity.” How? Why do his colleagues not snicker? I guess it’s because they’ve got their earmarks too.
    So far Coburn’s act looks like a remake of Don Quixote, but this time he’s tilting at windbags.

  8. Dave

    Mark, You do have the option of founding your own company to make the world right. You wouldn’t be able to have management to help you because that would be establishing a class of elites. Anyway, you would pay everyone the same pay so what incentive would anyone have for putting up with the kinds of legally required laws and programs that I know you like, i.e. who would be on the hook for enforcing safety standards, harassment rules, rehabbing drunk employees, etc. etc. etc.? I guess you would be the manager then. But, your employees would probably hate you since they would assume that even though you took your own money, took the risk of starting the company, you owe then lots of things like lucrative vacation, generous sick time, fabulous medical coverage, and of course day care for all who want to use it. And they would see that if the company actually was successful, the value would grow and so your value would grow. So, they also would insist on you giving them stock in the company as a benefit so you would not be greedy like most management. So, Mark, when can I apply?

  9. Dave

    Steve, when I noted the potential elimination of the Dept. of Educ. and Amtrak, I agree that overall these are blips on the radar considering the size of the fed budget. These are only appetizers before the full course meal is consumed. Other ideas: Adopt Fair Tax and eliminate IRS, privatize administration of federal prisons, phase out social security and medicare with private sector replacements, phase out corporate welfare for farms, tobacco, steel, and nearly all business programs. Revert US Congress to an expenses only compensation, with citizen reps to eliminate the career politicians. Much more could be done.

  10. David

    Mark wrote “When folks leave the military, they end up in factories or in low paying service or government jobs.”
    I hope Mark meant “some folks” because my 1st cousin has received several very nice job offers for when he leaves the military. Of course he takes great care of himself, has taken it upon himself to learn as much as he can in the military about computers and has developed himself to the point where he carries himself very well and respects authority. He is extremely clean cut and has been offered jobs even though he has over a year to go in the Army.
    Folks can leave the military for low end jobs but that will be their choice. The military offers great training but the individual has to show a little pride and learn as much as they can so they can take it to the private sector.
    I agree with Mark that those who leave the military, who didn’t use the resources around them to improve themselves, and leave with a “the world owes me something” attitude will end up in low end jobs.

  11. kc

    it weren’t for those “evil” corporations “preying on our sons and daughters”, – Nathan
    It’s misleading to put those phrases in quotation marks, Nathan. It suggests you’re quoting one of the previous commenters.
    In fact the only person on this comment thread who’s used those phrases is . . . you.
    And Mr. Warthen, one doesn’t have to be a “marxist” to recognize that there are, indeed, class differences in this country.

  12. Lee

    The main class differences in America are the Productive Class, and the Drone Class. The Drones think they are entitled to an ever-increasing minimum standard of living, whether they earn it or not. That attitude carries with it the notion that Drones are better than the Productive members of society, whom the State is supposed to relegate to the the legal status of slaves and providers to the Drones.

  13. Bill

    Hey Dave,
    After you get rid of Amtrak,IRS,Social Security,etc-do you think we have enough nuclear waste here to turn South Carolina into a radioactive penal colony? Just think,if someone manages to escape, they’ll be easily found because they glow in the dark!

  14. Dave

    Bill, the Bush admin has been pushing to store nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Most experts agree that is the best place to safely store nuclear waste. Conservatives are all aglow over the latest Supreme Court choice so who needs nuclear radiation.

    As for these federal departments and programs, remember the nation survived happily without federal income taxes, SS, and Amtrak for many years. We can do without these programs and all be better off for their absence.

  15. Nathan

    KC, the sons and daughters reference is a direct quote from your buddy Mark above, adjusted for use in proper grammatical way. As for the use of the term “evil” referring to corporations (ooop, there go those quotes again), that is the typical liberal mantra that corporations are bad and government dependency is good.
    As for your comment about marxism, classes are easy for anyone to see. It is not difficult to tell the difference between the rich guy shopping at Grainger Owings and the poor guy shopping at k-mart. The question lies in whether or not the government should make that rich guy give his money to the poor guy simply by virtue of him being rich. Is it fair to take from those who work hard to give to those who don’t? I don’t want the federal government to be Robin Hood, do you?

  16. Dave

    Bill, I can’t say I lived through the great depression era, but in listening to several of my relatives most Americans got through it. From what we know about economics at this point in history, the big D was primarily a factor of overtightening of the money supply, so in effect an artificially created economic downturn that could have been avoided. I think you would agree people were, they had to be, much more self sufficient and personally responsible at that time. We could use more of that old fashioned ethic now.

    The new Great Depression is now setting in on the looney left in this country. Watch how goofy the left gets over this latest USSC nomination. The left’s last hope to someday achieve their statist programs will hopefully be backburnered for ten to twenty years with the imminent makeup of the courts.

  17. Mike D in SC

    Mark said:
    “When folks leave the military, they end up in factories or in low paying service or government jobs.”
    Mark’s comment is such a gross generalization as to be meaningless. Folks leave the military and get all kinds of jobs. Colin Powell left the military and became Secretary of State. Quite a number of people have left the military to become US President.
    As for me, I guess Mark’s comment is true. I left the military, and now I work in a factory. And it is a great job. I earn above the median income for the US. My employer is great to work for (and we’re not unionized.) When we have had headcount cuts in the past, they were achieved through normal attrition.
    In fact, if it weren’t for the military, I wouldn’t have this great job.
    I had great grades in high school, but when I started college, I was still too irresponsible to get my behind out of bed and into classes, so I did poorly. By age 20, I was back home, living with my parents, and cooking pizzas for spending money. With my Dad ready to throw me out into the world, I went to see the Navy recruiter.
    Aside from growing up in a hurry in boot camp, the Navy gave me some great training.
    Six years later, I was getting out of the Navy. When I applied for my current job, my employer saw the words “Navy” and “electronics” on my resume, and I was in.
    Mark’s generalizations about how only poor people join the military, and how rotten they have it after getting out, just aren’t true.

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