Monday, November 27, 2006

The alpha buffalo speaks!

There are certainly more unserious and inconsequential political figures who have written to give the Democrats advice than Tim Penny, but Spot cannot think of who they are at the moment. Ah yes, Tim Penny, the intellectual godfather of the Independence Party in Minnesota: the man who drew a line on the tree at 16% in the governor's race in 2002 and dared Peter Hutchinson to beat it. Alas, poor Peter could not best this mighty feat!

Thus established as the alpha buffalo, it is incumbent on Tim to tell the incoming Democratic Congress how to govern. "Heed me or perish!" thunders Tim, "I am the White Buffalo. I am the vessel in which the sacred broth of fiscal responsibility is simmered!"

Here's Tim's principal policy prescription:

From the Iraq war to ethics, to deficits, the Democrats spent the election season criticizing Republican mismanagement of the people's business -- while seldom offering a coherent alternative of their own. Now they are in charge of Congress and must deliver. What will they do? What can Democrats agree upon? Thankfully, Democrats will be led by two experienced and respected Budget Committee chairmen, John Spratt (S.C.) in the House and Kent Conrad (N.D.) in the Senate, both of whom are serious about reducing deficits. Spratt has recently gone on record calling for a balanced budget within five years.

To reach that goal, they might start by looking to the Blue Dog caucus -- comprised of 44 moderate and fiscally conservative members (nine of whom were newly elected this fall). Their prescription for fixing the budget morass created in recent years by Republicans is worth a serious look.

That's right: the Blue Dogs have the answer. A caucus of less than 10% of the Congress (that's even less than 16%, Tim!) will lead us out of the wilderness! Tell us Tim, the wisdom of the Blue Dog:

Among other budget disciplines, the Blue Dogs have proposed restoring "pay as you go" budget rules, tighter restrictions on emergency spending, and limitations on appropriation earmarks (commonly called pork-barrel spending).

Tim, these are all things that got out of control with the Republicans in charge, right? The new Congress hasn't even take the oath of office yet; perhaps you could save your sanctimonious flaying of the innocents at least until January.

Penny couldn't let the occasion of getting some ink in the Strib go by without mentioning the most serious offense to his asceticism: entitlements:

Sadly, not even the Blue Dogs have proposed taking a serious look at reducing entitlement spending. Yet, with the retirement of the babyboom generation just a few years away, the cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will soon skyrocket. Medicare is already in fiscal straits and Social Security will be in a cash flow crunch by 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Here's the fundamental dishonesty. Social Security has been wracking up surpluses since the eighties, and for most of Spot's working life as a employee, and as an employer. Politicians did not have even a teeny problem using the surpluses to fund other parts of the government. Now, in 2017 there will be a "cash flow crunch" according to Tim.

What Tim means is that in 2017 we will reach the point where regressive social security taxes will no longer be available to borrow for other uses, and the government will have to start to "pay back" monies into the system to fund benefits. This doesn't seem so unfair to Spot; it seems, in fact, responsible, to use one of Tim's favorite words.

Also in fact, the boomers aren't, alas, going to live forever. Isn't sauce for the social security goose sauce for the overall budget gander? In 2050, or 2060, or maybe never, when the social security "surplus" is all used up, why can't social security borrow a little general tax revenue until all the old geezers are dead?

Isn't that at least worth considering as an alternative to taking the current system and yanking it out by the roots to be replaced by a privatized system that has been mostly unsuccessful where it has been tried?

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