You’ve heard it a zillion times.
“We’re going to have to make some tough choices.”
Tough choices. But tough for whom? Tough choices, for people who live far away from the places where the choices are made. It’s obscene for men like Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and — yes, horribly — Barack Obama, to call these “tough choices.” None of these choices are “tough” for the men who are making them. There isn’t a single “tough choice” in this document, because the people who will have it tough (or, should I say, even more tough than they already have it) are not the ones making the choice to have it tough.
Here is Barbara O’Brien (writing on Veteran’s Day):
So the plan, as I understand it, is to slash support to the poor and elderly and raise the retirement age in order to afford lower income tax rates across the board, including corporate taxes, and this is called “fiscal responsibility”?
But what really pissed me off this morning was the President.
President Obama is in Seoul, South Korea, where today he said lawmakers in the United States should hold off on comments about his fiscal commission’s proposals to slash the federal budget deficit through spending cuts, ending tax breaks, and a revamping of the Social Security system.
“Before anybody starts shooting down proposals, I think we need to listen, we need to gather up all the facts,” Obama told reporters….
…”We’re going to have to make some tough choices,” Obama said.
Tough choices? Making the rich richer is not a “tough choice.” A tough choice is choosing between filling a prescription or paying the heat bill. A tough choice is when your child has a fever, but if you take him to a doctor there won’t be money left for groceries. Those are tough choices.
But to be well fed and well housed and choose to deprive others of necessities to give yourself an income tax break is not a tough choice.
And the money quote from Kevin Drum’s piece that Barbara links in her post (emphasis is mine):
To put this more succinctly: any serious long-term deficit plan will spend about 1% of its time on the discretionary budget, 1% on Social Security, and 98% on healthcare. Any proposal that doesn’t maintain approximately that ratio shouldn’t be considered serious. The Simpson-Bowles plan, conversely, goes into loving detail about cuts to the discretionary budget and Social Security but turns suddenly vague and cramped when it gets to Medicare. That’s not serious.
There are other reasons the Simpson-Bowles plan isn’t serious. Capping revenue at 21% of GDP, for example. The plain fact is that over the next few decades Social Security will need a little more money and healthcare will need a lot more. That will be true even if we implement the greatest healthcare cost containment plan in the world. Pretending that we can nonetheless cap revenues at 2000 levels isn’t serious.
And their tax proposal? As part of a deficit reduction plan they want to cut taxes on the rich and make the federal tax system more regressive? That’s not serious either.
Bottom line: this document isn’t really aimed at deficit reduction. It’s aimed at keeping government small. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re a conservative think tank and that’s what you’re dedicated to selling. But it should be called by its right name. This document is a paean to cutting the federal government, not cutting the federal deficit.