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AS I SEE IT

Posted 3/02/11 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

If you ask most Americans if they want this country’s budget cut or see the United States face financial ruin, you are probably right in assuming that most of us would say it’s time to cut government spending. But if you ask these exact same people if they favor cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to help bring some order to the nation’s financial dilemma, they go absolutely ballistic.
Yes, people want to get government spending under control. And, as a nation, we must. At our current level of spending, the nation’s debt is predicted to reach a record $1.5 trillion this year, which means that our government must borrow 40 cents for every dollar it spends.
And to make matters worse, Congress will soon be deciding whether or not to raise the national debt limit cap of $14.3 trillion  or start shutting down government operations because of the lack of funding for the new fiscal year.
While the president of the United States may submit a budget proposal, the president really doesn’t have much say over what Congress decides to spend. Having Congress hold all of the purse strings on spending is just one of the great checks and balances of our democracy.
Why is America in its financial problem today? It isn’t because we don’t have enough taxes and our tax rates aren’t high enough.
It’s because our elected leaders in Congress just haven’t been able to say “no” to many funding requests. When money (pork) can be turned into votes that keep Congressmen in office, elected officials can never say no. That’s why our entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as welfare programs) literally are gobbling up all of the tax dollars that Americans are paying in.
So where does all of our tax dollars go? Some 20 percent of this country’s budget goes for defense and security-related international activities, another 20 percent will pay for Social Security, and about 21 percent of our nation’s budget is spent by three health insurance programs - Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
So those three budget areas alone account for 61 percent of this nation’s budget expenditures. Now add another 20 percent of the budget that funds safety net programs for individuals facing hardship and the six percent that is needed to pay our national debt and the problem becomes fairly apparent. Unless Congress is willing to touch the “untouchables” there just isn’t enough room left in the national budget to make the significant cuts to begin to balance our budget.
For too long, Congress has adopted the philosophy that ignoring the fiscal problems facing the country will always be someone else’s problem to solve. They have used the money that was intended to fund Social Security well into the future to fund other government programs and put massive amounts of IOUs on the books. They have spent money that never existed, all the while amassing trillions of dollars of debt.
The day of financial reckoning has finally arrived with Americans now demanding that Congress deal with the mess that they have created.
But the bottom line is that Congress needs to muster up the courage that is needed to bring about the restructuring, and yes, the cutting of the entitlement programs that are crushing the nation’s financial solvency. And to do so, both parties must be honest and forthright in explaining to Americans that reductions to these scared cows must be made. There will be pain to bear by the citizens, and no doubt, considerable backlash to the Congressmen who step up to the plate to deliver these cuts.
The future of the nation’s finances are at stake. For Congress to continue to only pay lip service to the problem, yet not effectively deal with it would be the greatest tragedy imaginable.