My, what is it, three-month absence, which is hereby ended, is inexcusable and inexplicable, and will therefore remain unexcused and unexplicated. The important thing is, I'm back, and there is once again reason for hope and reason to live.
An AP article today, "GAO Chief Warns Economic Disaster Looms," describes a nationwide tour by U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker to warn whomever will listen that the federal goverment is heading for fiscal catastrophe:
If the United States government conducts business as usual over the next few decades, a national debt that is already $8.5 trillion [which we owe to country's like Japan, China, and Mexico!] could reach $46 trillion or more, adjusted for inflation. That's almost as much as the total net worth of every person in America....A hole that big could paralyze the U.S. economy; according to some projections, just the interest payments on a debt that big would be as much as all the taxes the government collects today....And every year that nothing is done about it, Walker says, the problem grows by $2 trillion to $3 trillion.
...And though the federal debt has grown in dollar terms since 2001, it hasn't grown dramatically relative to the size of the economy.... But that's about to change, thanks to the country's three big entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicaid and especially Medicare.
The projected increase in the annual cost of Medicare is indeed scary, and must be addressed. (I see nothing wrong with means-testing both Medicare, which covers seniors no matter how rich are, and Social Security, whose benefits are generally proportional to the retiree's income and wealth and, if I'm not mistaken, don't take into account income from other sources.)
I just wish the article had mentioned that at the end of the Clinton administration we had a budget surplus.
I wish it had mentioned another "entitlement program"--the "defense" budget, which rolls on and grows year after year--particularly the portion that goes to major defense contractors for new "weapons systems" for the defense secretary and the Pentagon brass to play with as tokens of their political clout and their virility.
I wish the article had mentioned a certain war which has already cost I'm not quite sure how many hundreds of billions--probably at least three--and may end up costing $2 trillion. But the war was absolutely necessary for our defense, wasn't it. BTW, the Bush administration continues to leave funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ($120 billion more requested in Feb. '06) out of its official military budget figures. Also, what warresisters.org calls "past military spending," which includes veterans benefits and the share of interest on the national debt accrued by past military spending, is left out of the official military budget accounting.
Even according to White House figures, 19% of Bush's 2007 budget goes to "defense," compared to 21% for Social Security, 14% to Medicare, 7% to Medicaid, and 9% for interest on the federal debt. But as warresisters.org notes, Social Security and Medicare costs are paid out of their respective trust funds, not the general budget, and thus should not be included in general budget data. If those are omitted, "defense spending" is revealed to actually make up 49% of the budget: 30% for current, 19% for past military expenses.
As we sink into fiscal quicksand, the 2007 budget increases defense spending by 5% (Bush asked for 6.9%), or roughly $22 billion. (New weapons systems get an 8% increase.) Meanwhile, the Bush budget would reduce or eliminate 141 programs--including cuts to the education and energy budgets (who needs more research on alternative energy sources?), for a total saving of $14.5 billion. The National Institutes of Health budget is frozen, and some areas of medical research are cut. Bush wants to reduce Medicare spending by $105 billion over the next 10 years. In '06 he cut Medicaid, which after all serves the poor, by $10 billion.
These figures in the AP article also caught my eye: "Global war on terror": $50 billion. Hurricane response: $4.6 billion. Pandemic influenza preparedness (bird flu, anyone?): $3.8 bill. (The 1918-19 flu epidemic killed 40-50 million people--a figure beyond Al Qaeda's wildest dreams. Or maybe not.)