Making large spending cuts while the country is still struggling to climb out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression is NOT a smart idea. Here’s what I would do:
1. Cut defense spending immediately by 5%, and 10% over the next 5 years, by closing a few bases in Europe and Asia. Make all defense contracts subject to mandatory competitive bidding, and empower the OMB to audit all defense expenditures. Eliminate the development and production of out-dated weapons systems. (Secretary Gates has already endorsed most of this).
2. Institute means-testing for all Medicare recipients. Benefits should decrease as our income increases. Giving free medical care to a millionaire who makes almost $3,000 per day is obscene. Everybody should get some benefits, but we have to stop throwing money at people who are made of money. (Leave Medicaid alone! The poor, low-income families and the elderly are having a difficult enough time already). Finally, empower Medicare administrators to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma. This would save seniors and the Medicare program billions of dollars, yet Republicans in Congress are obstructing any move to do this.
3. Raise the retirement age for Social Security to 68, not 70. The current retirement age is not reflective of the world we live in, with people living and working longer. Payroll deductions for Social Security should NOT have a cap for wage earners. Lower the annual tax to 5% from 6.2%, but remove the wage base cap (currently at $106,000) for employees. Retain the wage base cap for employers so that their matching contribution requirement ends when the employee reaches $110,000 in gross wages. Finally, take Social Security out of the General Fund, so that it can’t be stolen from again.
4. Do not touch discretionary spending, which only accounts for about 16% of the budget. I would actually increase this percentage, so that it includes infrastructure projects that would create jobs. All programs should, however, be subject to annual audits to ensure money is being spent where it’s supposed to be spent and there is no fraud or waste.
5. Implement a transactional tax on hedge fund managers and Wall Street speculators that will bring their real tax liability up to the top bracket where they belong. Some of these people are earning 12-figure incomes, contributing nothing to the economy but higher costs for commodities, and their current tax rate is about 11%.
6. Eliminate the tax loophole created by George W. Bush in 2005 which allows corporations to write-off the cost of training foreign workers in this country, as they out-source American jobs to foreign countries. This loophole actually incentivizes out-sourcing.
7. Keep current individual tax rates where they are for people earning between $50,000/year and $300,000/year. Those earning less should also be given a ‘payroll tax holiday’ for the next two years. Those earning more than $300,000/year should see an increase in their tax rate from 35% to 39%. (These rates can all come down over the next 10 years if we’re serious about ending many of the tax avoidance loopholes in the tax code).
8. Leave corporate taxes where they are, but provide some tax incentives for companies who move their manufacturing facilities back into the US. We have lost nearly 60,000 factories in the last decade and our economy will not fully recover until we can get manufacturing back on its feet in this country.
9. Raise the Estate Tax on estates valued in excess of $10 million. Estates valued at less than $2 million should pay no Estate Tax.
10. End the subsidies to the wealthiest industries on the planet — big oil and big agra. It is absurd that US tax payers are helping to finance the operations of these mega-businesses).
None of these ten ideas alone is perfect, but we have to do something. I believe that taking the above ten steps would drastically reduce our deficit with the least amount of pain for everybody. More importantly, it would serve to buttress the middle class, which is the engine that drives our economy.
In concert with these ten steps, we need to address the trade imbalance and its underlying causes. India and China in particular, need to implement worker protections and an acceptable minimum wage. China needs to stop manipulating the value of its currency and subsidizing its so-called ‘private industry’, so the playing field is more level. Otherwise, their exports should face tariffs.