Lest you think we media opinion types make up all this stuff about Republicans in Congress further dividing our society by giving more to the “haves” and taking away from the “have nots,” you need look no further than the federal budget prototype introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Ryan chairs the House Budget Subcommittee. While presidential budgets proposals are normally dismissed out of hand, the one that comes out of the House Budget group normally gets more discussion.

Ryan’s claim is – and I’ll leave it to you to determine how much validity it has – his version would save $4 trillion over 10 years. I put no trust in that number – by Ryan or anyone else – because our economy and world conditions affecting that economy change so drastically, so rapidly and for so many different reasons, any long term prediction is a leaf in the wind. Besides, for this discussion, it doesn’t matter.

To pull apart and analyze such a document would take far more space – and wonkish political interest – than we have here. For the purposes of supporting my premise about the “haves” and the have nots” we need only look at two items. Health care and the military.

Here is the stark reality. While Medicare and Medicaid could stand some restructuring, Ryan proposes cutting both while not diminishing the Pentagon budget by a single dime! Not one! You can’t get much “starker” than that.

Poll after poll after poll after poll dealing with Medicare/Medicaid show the same outcome: 60-80% or more of Americans want no reductions in those areas. Changes? Maybe. Reductions? No! That’s largely because those dollars are more than budget numbers. They’re directly linked to millions of individuals in this country who would be adversely affected – in some cases by very human issues of deprivation and death. Most of us – regardless of political inclinations or party – feel strongly about these two programs which deal with basic human needs. Redesign? Certainly. Means test? You bet. Cut? No.

The Pentagon is entirely a different matter. The same kind of repeated polling finds most of us – including many in the military and some at the top of the Pentagon itself – believe cuts can and should be made in defense spending. Recently, Defense Secretary Gates and other top brass lobbied Congress to cut several billions of dollars in unnecessary and unwanted military toys. They lost. As they have before.

The reason Congress prevailed has nothing to do with wisdom or value of the systems. It was simply political butt-saving. Some members of both parties – including House Republican leadership – have large companies in their home districts making those unwanted items and they aren’t going to risk upsetting the folks at home. My guess is they could be upsetting more voters at home by continuing to throw money down the unwanted and unnecessary weapons rat hole instead of listening to the professionals.

So, Ryan’s budget blatantly takes from the “have nots” and gives to the “haves.” There are many other examples of doing the same thing. Those old tax breaks, you know. Lots of ‘em. Business, of course. So, all the political posturing and blame-baiting will keep Congress from any progress on the debt unless – and until – three things happen.

First, stop talking “cuts” to re-balance any future budget. You cannot “cut” your way to a healthy economy. At great pain to a lot of innocent people, you may stem the bleeding but you won’t get out of the hole. Take a year or two or three to build a new, baseline budget. Examine every item for necessity and legitimacy. Justify every expense. Budget for today’s spending. Stop patching the old one to “make do.”

Second, increase revenue to pay the bills. The only way to do that, without inflicting great pain on the “have nots,” is to go back to the drawing board and redesign how taxes are collected, from whom, how much, on what and who isn’t paying. Multi-national corporations, for example, are avoiding taxes by utilizing loopholes in the current tax code. Those loopholes need to be plugged and all of us – corporations as well as individuals – need to share the load proportionally. There is no other, fairer way. Means test what comes in. Means test what goes out. Again, tax and collect for today’s world and stop simply doing “business as usual.”

Third, bring our military home from two wars of lost cause because those wars are political extravagances we can not afford. With no end in sight – and certainly no victory – they have drained, and will continue to drain, our resources of lives and dollars desperately needed at home.

While it would be easy to say Ryan’s budget ideas should be rejected out-of-hand, it would be wrong. It’s a place to start. But open, reasoned minds need to examine every line with some rational thought about what effect it will have on all of us. Especially the weakest of us.

Congress has no higher responsibility than to assure government’s presence in our lives is minimal and necessary. And when it is, fair. Fair to the “haves.” Fair to the “have nots.” One reason many in Washington have forgotten that is because too many of them “have” so much.

Comments are closed.