Thursday, February 18, 2010

Politicians & Priorities

I heard Harold Ford, Jr, speak this evening. He wants to join the U.S. Senate; Tennessee rebuffed him, and he might try to unseat Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) here. He was an engaging speaker, a bit folksy, and his centrism came through. His common refrain was to find "what works" - whether it's school vouchers or health reform. His "big thing" is education, especially K-12, and he notes that "we're losing boys, especially minority boys, between 6th and 9th grade." Well noted!

Even better, Ford talked in no uncertain terms about the need to control entitlement spending, and to make hard choices. He spoke about things a lot of politicians live in denial of - that we have to choose between spending priorities, that the older generations are going to cost a ton in their retirement. He also said the stimulus bills are necessary, but it's hard to find anybody these days who hasn't drunk the Keynesian Kool-Aid.

Would I support Harold Ford as a candidate? Perhaps. But more importantly, I had an epiphany discussing his speech with a friend afterward. That is, a politician cannot effectively promote deficit reduction and any other priority. To push seriously for deficit reduction is exclusive. Why? Because working toward any other priority will involve horse-trading, almost all of which is expensive. Ford, for instance, could push for a voucher program to rescue poor kids from even poorer schools. But in order to make it politically palatable, such legislation would have to involve tossing more money at teacher's unions as well as funding the vouchers from scratch - instead of taking money away from the awful urban schools as it ought. That would be yet another budget-buster, even if it accomplished something.

Right now, America needs legislators and executives who are fixated on deficit reduction. We need people who will hack away at spending, means-test Social Security, cut benefits, lay off city workers, close failing schools, shrink the military, and vote "no" on every single bill that contains pork. Other priorities can wait.


turtle said...

What about that other well-known deficit reduction tool: higher taxes?

Chops said...

That only works if it's coupled with spending discipline. If Congress has the "stomach" for a certain amount of debt, they'll accrue that much debt whether their tax revenue is $1 trillion or $2 trillion.

In my opinion, the level of taxation doesn't matter as much as the attitude with which the money is spent. Right now, it's being spent with the attitude of, "Let me get as much as i can for the narrowest constituency". Until that changes, I don't want to give Washington one more dime.

Turtle said...

Any chance for insisting on budget-neutral legislation? That anything that's going to cost more be coupled to something that cuts spending elsewhere or raises revenue? Is this something Obama's talking about insisting on starting in 2011?

Chops said...

That would certainly be the beginning of a budget-saving process. The current stimulus bill is almost an example of that, raising $110 billion and spending $125 billion (assuming those numbers aren't too fudged).

But a holding pattern isn't good enough now. We need that kind of commitment RIGHT NOW from Obama, and as soon as the recession is over even Keynesians believe we should balance the budget.