‘Satan Sandwiches’ and Divots In The Budget Fairway

By Frank Hill

Did you see the comment from Congressman Cleaver of Missouri?

He called this debt deal a ‘Sugar-Coated Satan Sandwich’.

Guess what? He is also a co-chair of the newly-formed ‘Civility Caucus’ in Congress. We kid you not.

We guess that alluding to Lucifer and Beelzebub is acceptable language in the caucus. So expect to hear cheers from each side in the future like ‘Go to Hell, Republicans!’ and ‘Go to Hell, Democrats!’ similar to the cheers at a Duke/Carolina basketball game.

We think it is always helpful to use hopefully useful analogies that put these big, weighty and many times deliberately confusing political issues in perspective.

Instead of a ‘Satan sandwich’, whatever that is, this looks more like a divot, albeit is a large divot, being cut out of a 550-yard long par 5 fairway by a not-so-very-good golfer.

This deal means that the grass on the SS and Medicare fairways will continue to grow and be irrigated and fertilized just like before. The only difference will be that the discretionary programs will be subject to some closer examination and perhaps some fumigation and weed-killer which is what a good groundkeeper always does to keep the entire golf course healthy and suitable for use for future generations of golfers.

Ronald Reagan once said: 'The closest thing to eternal life is a government program.'

There are billions and billions of dollars spent on out-dated, useless and wasteful programs in all federal programs stem to stern. It would be a good time to ferret all of them out and eliminate those that don't work or serve any useful purposes any longer, don't you think?

The federal government is expected spend $46 trillion between now and 2021.

Uncle Sam is slated to take in $39 trillion over the same time period. This means we will be increasing our debt by ‘only’ about $7 trillion instead of the $9.2 trillion we would have incurred without this debt deal just passed.

It represents about a 5% reduction from future 'increased' expected spending levels in total in the US government.

So instead of increasing at about a 5%+ annual clip for the next decade, total federal spending will ‘only’ expand at a 3% or so annualized clip for the next decade. No actual cuts in real terms; well ahead of the expected levels of inflation for the duration, at least by CBO estimations.

Is that really and truly and honestly a 'Satan Sandwich', Congressman? Honestly.

We will leave it up to others who are more well-equipped to explain the intricacies of the details of this most recent budget ‘deal’ such as Keith Hennessey (be sure to read all three of his postings on this because they are excellent).

Suffice it to say that in the time-honored tradition of the great compromises in American history, both sides can claim enough ‘victories’ in the agreement to go back to their supporters and say ‘I did my job!’ all the while knowing that they ‘kicked the can down the road’ for others to solve, albeit not as far as it would have been without this ‘historic’ (sic?) agreement.

Both sides head-faked and double-pumped (to use some basketball terms) to the notion of going after ‘entitlement reform’ and a much higher amount of savings, over $4 trillion in savings, versus what was finally agreed upon.

But, in perhaps the longest-running losing streak second only to Clemson’s 0-55 record on the road versus North Carolina at Chapel Hill in basketball, the US Congress once again ‘failed’ to deal with the underlying structural problems in Social Security and Medicare, both of which are on simply astounding and unsustainable growth trajectories for the future.

The answers are pretty ‘simple’: raise the retirement age for both senior programs for all FUTURE retirees, not the current ones, and adjust the eligibility for each based on income and household wealth are the two big ones along with a myriad of others.

The political reality of dealing with such momentous problems, however, are horrifying to any elected official, including now, unfortunately the Tea Party Caucus.

Why? Because 95% of all registered senior citizens vote in every election, primary and general, off-year congressional and presidential. The Twin Towers of SS and Medicare are prime targets for defenders of the status quo to go after anyone who dares tweak either program without offering any real long-term solutions of their own other than to 'raise taxes on the wealthy', yada-yada-yada.

That is why you did not see any ‘Grand Compromise’ on entitlements in this last deal. When you see a Democrat President in the White House, like President Obama for example, join hands with not only the leaders of a Republican Congress but the Tea Party Members behind them and say they have reached an agreement that includes both of the two proposals above on SS and Medicare, then and only then will you know that we have taken bold actions to solve our long-term fiscal problems.

That is why this was another ‘missed opportunity’ for our nation to fix these problems and then move on to more important stuff, such as allowing the private sector to grow and expand and hire more people back to work so they can pay taxes to pay for all of the federal programs the majority of Americans have said they want.

One thing that would help, immensely, would be if Congressmen would come to their senses and at least speak the truth on such weighty matters.

We can suggest thousands of ways for the Super Commission to weed and till the federal budget going forward. Just look at this deficit-reduction book from CBO and pick out some on your own.

And then send them along to your elected representatives in Congress and tell them to pass them.

They are good places to start.

(Editor's Note: Frank Hill's resumé includes working as chief of staff for Senator Elizabeth Dole and Congressman Alex McMillan, serving on the House Budget Committee and serving on the Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform. He takes on politics from a fiercely independent perspective at the blog Telemachus).

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