Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials
Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire. Nov. 13, 2012.
With election over, leaders must take jobs more seriously
The depth of the hole we've dug by "kicking the can down the road" is clearly illustrated by the pending "fiscal cliff" Congress and President Barack Obama are trying to avoid before Jan. 1.The stakes are huge, analysts say. Failure to act could throw unemployment back above 9 percent and trigger the feared "double-dip" recession.
Here's the dilemma. As part of the agreement last year to raise the nation's debt ceiling for seemingly the umpteenth time, automatic cuts of $109 billion for the current fiscal year, including $55 billion from defense, will kick in January unless a new agreement is reached. Few want that to occur, and Obama has promised not to implement the defense cuts.
But consider the mess we're in. That $109 billion represents only about 10 percent of this fiscal year's federal deficit of some $1.1 trillion. So if we can't cut even 10 percent of this year's deficit without economic catastrophe, imagine the futility of achieving real budget deficit reduction.
Also, consider this. The fiscal 2013 budget is roughly $3.8 trillion. About $2.5 trillion are costs Congress can't do anything about, such as payouts to Social Security, Medicare, interest on the national debt and pensions to veterans and federal retirees.
That leaves roughly $1.3 trillion for all day-to-day federal operations. Which means Congress could eliminate virtually every federal department and barely balance the budget. While some wags might say we should give that a try, suddenly we'd be without a military and all the other Cabinet departments. Hardly an option.
Inevitably Congress and the president will pass a stopgap measure — again — and the can will get kicked down the road one more time.
As for the bigger picture, this episode illustrates the importance of congressional leaders working with the White House to cobble together a combination of revenue (tax) increases and reasonable spending cuts that at least start to move the needle in the right direction.
What that means is acting like leaders and knowing that out of this agreement will come pain from all sides.
Continued trillion-dollar-plus deficits can continue for only so long before our interest payments overwhelm us. Last fiscal year alone that cost was roughly $360 billion. Imagine if we could use that money for something other than paying old debts. We can keep running up the deficit and debt as long as someone will loan us more money, but those interest payments are choking our present and future.
There is plenty of time for the two political parties to argue about the costs and ramifications of continuing wars, Obamacare, "entitlement reform," etc., but job one is to develop a plan to ease our way out of such unfathomable borrowing that probably won't leave anyone totally happy.
The ability to accomplish that is what defines compromise and leadership, two qualities sorely lacking for far too long in Washington.
The Sheboygan Press. Nov. 12, 2012.
CEOs offer key fiscal guidance
The top executives of more than 80 U.S. corporations signed on to a letter calling for a bipartisan solution to the federal government's fiscal problems by looking at both the revenue and the spending sides of the ledger.
The letter says, "Policy makers should acknowledge that our growing debt is a serious threat to the economic well-being and security of the United States." And the letter calls for bipartisan action on not just budget deficits but reforming Medicare and Medicare and strengthening Social Security.
It is worth taking note of this letter because of the source: It is signed by 86 chief executives of major American manufacturers and retail, communications and insurance companies, including AT&T, Boeing, Caterpillar, Deere & Co., Microsoft, Verizon and Walgreen.
This a refreshing message from a group that might be presumed to be against any revenue increases. At the same time, the message should be heard that no parts of the federal budget should be off limits to cuts. Too many members of Congress have taken hard line positions on either raising tax revenues or protecting pet programs.
There is growing agreement in Washington on the need to increase tax revenue coming into the federal treasury to offset current and future deficits. When the economy fully recovers and begins growing at historic rates, that will bring in more revenue. Meanwhile, there are a limited number of options because raising rates is out of the question.
There is, however, support for "broadening the base," which means eliminating tax credits and deductions (i.e., loopholes) to bring in more revenue while at the same time lowing rates. Members of both parties accept this approach, though no one is very clear about precisely which loopholes will be closed or for whom. Nor is it clear whether that, by itself, will bring in enough revenue to significantly reduce the deficits.
But new revenue must be part of the equation.
Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna who signed on to the letter, told the Wall Street Journal the deficit problem requires a balanced solution. "There is no possible way" to fix the problem without raising taxes. At the same time, he said, you can't "tax your way to fix the problem and you can't cut entitlements enough to fix this problem."
On Medicare and Medicaid, the statement calls for improved efficiency in the overall health care system while limiting future growth in health care cost. It does not say how the executives would shore up Social Security, although the Simpson-Bowles Commission proposed gradually reducing benefits for high earners, raising retirement ages and raising the cap on maximum incomes that are taxed for Social Security.
The only way the president and members of Congress will have the courage and the will to take serious action on deficits is if they hear that Americans understand the solutions won't be painless. Statements like that from the corporate leaders is a great beginning
The Post-Crescent, Appleton. Nov. 13, 2012.
'Perversion files' a black mark on Boy Scouts
The more we think about the Boy Scouts' "perversion files," the angrier we get.
How could so many Boy Scout officials shield so many predators? How come no one stepped forward to say that molesters should be reported to police, not asked to leave town?
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