Extra Discussion of Question 2 (The Budget)

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The Question.

Henry (your moderator):

One of the things Elgin, Joel, and I have discussed regularly over the last few weeks is how to make this discussion work well, be informative, and also be interesting. This discussion in e-mail started producing some interesting comments. So at the suggestion of Joel and Elgin, I’m going to add a post taken from the e-mail exchange. I’ve left the discussion of how to accomplish this as part of this post to set the context.

We already have the text of a third set of replies to post next Thursday (March 14), and we still plan a fourth set, but if e-mail exchanges continue to sizzle, we may replace some of the formal discussion with this more informal material.

As always, feel free to comment here, on social media, on the authors’ web sites, or on your own blog. If you join this discussion on your own blog, please leave a comment with a link, or just email your link to pubs@energion.com including the words “Debate Link” in the subject line.

Joel:

So I would like to take the final reply, and instead of getting dragged more into philosophical discussions, talk about our agreements, such as what to get rid of. This is my thinking –

Regardless of philosophies at this point, if we cut/gut the Dept. of Education, then we achieve essentially the same thing. Less tax payer dollars, etc… Regardless of philosophy.

Elgin:

This sounds good to me though your post was such a target rich environment and it would be hard not to address some of your distortions of my views (e.g. see page 149 of Preserving Democracy), perhaps Henry could ask a question for us to focus on.

One issue is that I am not real clear where we agree apart for the places you mentioned.  But we certainly could do a post were we discuss the outline of concrete actions we think should be taken.

Another issue is that I believe that the next post on the 21st would be our answers to the third question.  Thus the options are 1) no 4th reply and move on to the next question 2) delay the next question 1 week,   3)  do both the 4th reply and the next question on the 21st.   I like 2 or 3 but I see it as Henry’s call,  unless of course we stage a revolt and gang up on him!!!  BTW, if we do have a forth reply, will we be dealing with entitlements? I think a total solution must. On the other hand perhaps this should be postpone for another question.

An argument in favor of postponing this until after the next two questions [These questions will involve the role of government (March) and income inequality (April)] is that one issue I have is that that I often do not agree with the starting premises of so many of these issues, thus the tendency to go off into “philosophy.”   I think that the next two questions will get to the heart of a lot of this,  making it easier move forward.   Also, I think I will reflect back on the exchanges for this question and will write up some thoughts as to how we might be able to improve this discussion.

BTW, I was in error in my post. It seems that Obama still had not release his budget. The one that is on line is last years.  Frankly I see this as yet another confirmation that ideology aside, he really is not up to the job, and is a significant factor in the current dysfunction in Washington.  It is really tough to have discussions about the current state of the budget, when the executive branch cannot even do the basics of getting of the necessary information out.   How can anyone work through the differences in positions when one side refuses to take a an actual position?

Joel:

Let’s just list 5 areas /departments we would cut. For instance, we agree the DoE should be cut. Great. Let’s say that and say why. List four more. This may be a final post to show that we can agree on a few things.

Elgin:

I agree the DoE should be cut (frankly I would argue it should be abolished.)   EPA and Commerce should not only both be cut but should be radically reformed.  Frankly I believe every agency could be cut and many eliminated.  I think that even the DoD might be cut, and definitely reformed. I would like to see salaries and benefits tied to the private sector.  I am 57 myself and not having had a vacation in a year and no idea if I will have one this year.  So it is really annoying having to struggle to pay taxes and then run into former government employees who have retired at 55, and talk about going up North to their summer cabin.  I am hoping to be able to retire by age 70, but that is far from certain. Ultimately there are lots of way this could be fixed, whether it is the penny plan (i.e., cut 1% each year for the next ten years) the Ryan Plan, or other plans.  But for me the key is that we must actually address spending for once.

Joel:

Cough, cough … I’m a government worker!

Here’s what I’m trying to get at. You and I have different philosophies about taxing and spending — yet you and I can agree on some wasteful government spending. First, I think ALL government agencies, departments, and offices need a radical reformation. We need to focus on making the Government smaller in the most literal sense. We must replace, where we can, people with technology. As heartless, or illiberal, as it seems for me to say that, Government is a job-creator only in the sense it is an opportunity leveler. If we can replace workers with technology that makes the work of the government more efficient, I’m all for that.

For the most part, the departments of the Executive Branch should have at their heart the responsibility to set guidelines and to have some weighs to see those guidelines enforced. For instance, let’s not do away with the Department of Education, but let’s make the DoE a smaller organization that establishes only guidelines and maybe some special programs. EPA should set guidelines as well. Both groups should handle more grants for research than they do enforcement.

And, again, get rid of Homeland Security, merging the appropriate parts with Defense.

As far as vacation and retirement, Elgin, I hate to say this, but this has nothing to do with the Government. Unions have fought for this right for civilian employees as well as government workers too. While I support appropriate salaries for Federal workers, tying them directly to the private sector may actually inhibit private sector growth. I do think, however, all Federal Government workers (including elected officials) should see their benefits package run through some sort of actuary table. My philosophy here is rather romantic, I guess, but I do not think working for our Government should be a get-rich scheme. To allow for Government workers to in any way set the tax rates is to be rather undemocratic. But, even this only barely touches the current deficit. Nor, is the example you gave the standard for every government employee.

In regards to the Federal Government, one of the things I would like to see done is to make the operation of it completely non-partisan. Instead of seeing these things talked about every two years or so, we need a non-partisan commission that will consistently seek to reorganize the workforce of the Federal Government to make it more efficient.

Once we focus on what parts of the Federal Government can either be dispensed with or cut, we will achieve spending cuts. Our philosophies here are different, but our results, sometimes, will be the same.

Elgin:

I have no problem with Government workers.  Government unions, but not government workers.  The real problem I see is that a two tier system is developing, where government workers receive pay and benefits private workers can only  dream about.  Government unions are a problem because in places like CA they are a significant if not dominant force in electing the people they will be negotiating with.  This is why they have $500 Billion in unfunded pension liability and are going bankrupt.

As for Government it seems we do have some agreement.  As you may know I recently moved from California to Wisconsin. While Wisconsin has high taxes (though not as high as CA) they at least pay for a Government that works.  I see the schools here as gold plated, but they give a good education (except for Milwaukee).  Frankly I see taxes as high, but my major concern is regulation which I see as little if any good, but causing a great deal of harm.  This is why Central California is been put into an artificial drought, causing some of the highest unemployment in the country, because of a smelt. This is because the EPA only considers the effect on species, not the impact on people.

I believe that non-partisan commissions are a myth, but that would take us into some of the core difference between Liberal and Conservatives.

I agree that you and I could probably reach some significant agreement.  I believe most Republicans and Democrats could, even in Washington.  They did under Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, etc.   But I believe that Obama is a big part of the problem.  I do not remember which earlier budget crisis it was, but it went nowhere, until Reid and Boehner ignored Obama and within a day or so came up with an agreement.  I simply do not believe Obama has the skill set or perhaps even the temperament to negotiate these issues.  He is a community organizer who spent a couple of years in the state senate, and a couple of months in the US Senate before running for President, and his lack of experience shows.  With all the criticism of Palin’s inexperience, she at least had executive experience and a record of getting things done even if it was limited. Obama had none and does not seem to have learned much in office.

Finally,  I do not see your perspective in the leadership of the current Democratic party.  Again Republicans are putting out budgets and plans. This year’s Budget being finalized in the House will balance the budget in 10 years and begin paying down the debt.   So what is the Democratic plan? Where is Obama’s budget? Where is the Senate’s budget?

Joel:

I would maintain that if private workers organized as well as some public sector workers have, they wouldn’t have to dream. Of course, this gets us into another subject better saved for another time — unions.
I’m not going to disagree with you about a too-long Republican controlled California being badly managed.

The idea that the President is the problem is a right-wing talking point based on one thing — he looks different. The fact is, is that Republican leadership has said repeatedly that they will not deal with the President, so much so that even their own members do not realize just how close some of their positions are, as evidenced by the conversations at the dinner the other night. The President has plenty of skill, but you can be the best arbitrator, however, if one side refuses to come to the table in good faith, then the process is doomed to fail. This is actually legal arbitrator language — good faith, because a party can come to the table with the premise that nothing will satisfy them, period. This is the case with the Republicans in Congress. They have since the very beginning said they will not work with the President — even before he was sworn in.

You seem stuck on the budget not getting out there. How about if the GOP controlled House put forth a budget that compromised with the Democrats? Until this happens, I see no reason why waste time on preparing a budget when (1) you aren’t in charge of the budge and (2) your time is best spent defending against immoral budgets.