Editor, I was one of the 100 or so folks who attended Congressman Jack Kingston’s town-hall meeting last month in Pembroke. Several aspects of the current budget issue became clear as a result of that meeting.
First, according to Kingston, the Social Security and Medicare funds currently are taking in more revenues than benefits are being paid out, and this is expected to continue for at least several more years. That means that no matter the size of that slice of the federal budget, Social Security and Medicare are not responsible for our current and prior deficits. Anyone who tries to blame current budget deficits on these areas simply is trying to shift blame away from other program costs. In other words, outright lying.
Second, the largest single other area of the federal budget is in defense-related spending. This section accounts for more than all other “non-discretionary” spending put together. Any cuts to other programs will remain minor in comparison to the deficits we currently are running. This is the only area of federal spending where it is realistic to require reductions and where such cuts will be meaningful in terms of the overall budget. There is simply no escaping this fact.
Third, while interest on the accumulated federal debt, according to Kingston, is expected to cost roughly 6 percent of the current budget, that cost will explode in the next 10 years because our borrowing in the past two years dramatically has increased our national debt. Kingston was unable to give us any specific idea on how much of future budgets that debt-service cost will be, but I have heard figures of as much as 40 percent or more.
This is going to be a major problem long after Obama is out of office — whether or not he is re-elected. This is the ultimate crisis we, as a country, will face in coming years. We must face this now.
The eventual deficits in the Social Security/Medicare programs in the coming years can be reduced or eliminated by small increases in the tax rates — say, from 7.65 percent of covered wages to 8 percent or 8.25 percent — as well as by removing the wage ceiling on which these taxes are levied. We should not be so quick to raise retirement ages when minimal increases in tax rates will allow sufficient funding to get us through the “boomer” retirement wave. That is temporary.
The central responsibility of our elected leaders and congressional representatives is to enact sound budgets on a timely basis. Our president and Congress both are incapable or unwilling to discharge that central responsibility. We should fire them all. They simply are putting personal fame and fortune above their duties as elected representatives of the people they are supposed to be serving.
— Raphael Semmes