Does anyone believe that this latest political impasse, which came within an hour of padlocking the government, actually had anything to do with the budget? If so, I have some shares of National Public Radio that I'd like to sell you. I know, it's not a private company. Yet. Just give them time.
It's typical for the Republicans to begin eviscerating social programs when they assume power, but this Tea Party uprising is starting to resemble Lord of the Flies, when the bullies victimize the weak until the grown-ups arrive. How else to explain the willingness to hold our soldiers' paychecks hostage to the government funding of Planned Parenthood?
This attempt at reducing the federal deficit was a congressional comedy from beginning to end, starring John Boehner as the substitute teacher in a juvenile corrections facility. The intent was to create jobs and strengthen the economy, but the Tea Party novices muscled the wheel of the bus and turned the discussion into all abortion, all the time. The insane crusade against Planned Parenthood in the midst of a budget crisis revealed the Tea Party Republicans as the zealots for their social and moral agenda that they are.
Civically challenged Indiana representative Mike Pence took to the House floor to declare that Republicans were willing to shut down the government if the Democrats didn't "respect our values." Outside, Tea Party activists chanted, "Cut it or shut it." Arizona senator John Kyl addressed the rally, saying, "If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that's well over 90 percent of what [they] do." (In truth, 96 percent of the organization's activities consist of cancer screenings, STD or STI testing, contraception, counseling, pregnancy testing, and prenatal care. Abortions are referred to medical professionals, since the Hyde Amendment already forbids public funds for that purpose. Republicans lied. Democrats enabled them. And Margaret Sanger just rolled over in her grave.
It's difficult to imagine that a scant 11 years ago, the U.S. had a balanced budget and a federal surplus of $230 billion. But 9/11 changed everything, the argument went. It certainly did. Nineteen homicidal men, armed with nothing more than sharp objects and an audacious plan, attacked landmarks of finance and government with hijacked domestic airliners and caused this nation to go berserk. The Pentagon budget soared, our military invaded and occupied two countries, and our president told the nation to go shopping while Wall Street looted the treasury.
That's why we run a $12 trillion deficit, for which China is holding the marker. I'm no economist, but it seems the logical thing to do is begin to extract ourselves from the entire, misguided fiscal and military morass we find ourselves in and disassemble the failed Bush policies that put us there. And that first means ending the two shooting wars we are currently fighting and bringing home our troops not just from Afghanistan and Iraq but from Germany, Japan, and Korea as well.
The U.S. spends as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The bipartisan Poling Center recommends the reduction of our armed forces by 275,000 troops, and a Barney Frank/Ron Paul-led congressional committee found that reducing our military presence in Europe and Asia by one-third would save $347 billion. Currently, we spend seven times as much on defense as China, which is in second place.
The budget battle was like a bantamweight preliminary to the main event: the next, i.e., "real" budget. Both parties are sniping over earmarks and government funding, while their proposed reductions to the deficit are equivalent to removing two M&Ms from a Halloween-size bag. I would like to recommend some large cuts that no one has yet addressed, beginning with restoring the tax code to Clinton-era levels, when nobody was complaining.
This includes closing the loopholes for American corporations that make their profits here and park their money in overseas tax havens like the Cayman Islands. Conglomerates like General Electric would no longer be able to pay zero taxes whatsoever, which just happened. And a company like TransOcean, responsible for the BP Oil disaster, would pay more in taxes and less in bonuses to executives for the year's "outstanding safety performance."
So, what cuts do the Republicans want to make to make up for the absence of corporate funds? The Environmental Protection Agency, HUD, financing for high-speed rail, heating subsidies for the elderly, and school lunches for poor children. Why not dismantle the whole Bush-era Department of Homeland Security, instead?
As for Medicare, anyone who watches TV sees fraud roll by every day, especially the ads for electric scooters for the elderly. In addition to the Hoveround and the Scooter Store, there are numerous companies offering guarantees of mobility "at little or no cost to you." This means with the right doctor's note, you too could be doing wheelies on the lip of the Grand Canyon.
All you need to stop it is honest oversight of the agency. And wouldn't it be an altruistic gesture if billionaires donated their Social Security checks to the truly needy? Before horse-whipping the poor, these GOP budget hawks should remember that our Afghan adventure is costing us $10 billion a month, and the military budget is greater than federal spending on education, Medicare, or interest on the debt, combined. Without the expense of empire and by creating a remade military for the 21st century, this nation can find the way to escape from this dark economic period as we have time and again — by prospering out of it.