If I Were King of the Forest

Two Good Questions from Readers

Two readers put me on the spot. And here are my answers.

First, from Mike Schiano: But don't Democrats do the same thing by pretending that all of these programs can be sustained at their current levels of funding? To me one of the lines that really hit home for me in Ryan's speech was "That money wasn't just spent and wasted – it was borrowed, spent, and wasted." Borrowed money eventually has to be paid back which will lead to programs being cut anyway and taxes being raised. Until the Democrats acknowledge that and present their own plan (that isnt based on a fantasy), everything they say is a lie too.

Second, from jdr9599: So Mike what do you propose we do to 1) Make SS and Medicare Solvent 2) Fix our debt issues 3) Create a fair tax systems where everyone pays a FAIR Share. By the way I could probly find 2 or 3 other budgeting wonk papers that would refute those same claims. But I'm going to take you at your word and assume that those claims are absolutes.

Okay, first of all: We got into this crisis, in my view, because of the housing and credit bubble, which happened because no one was watching the big banks. So the first thing I'd do is: watch the banks. The size of the ongoing crisis (our current deficit) is exacerbated by the Bush tax cuts and the wars. So I wouldnt have done those tax cuts. I would have waged the Afghanistan war, to be honest, but in a limited, Libya kind of way, to the extent possible. Certainy would not have done Iraq. Without the Iraq war, hopefully Afghanistan goes rather more smoothly, one hopes.

I raise taxes on the wealthy--actually, more (if I could) than the token amount Obama is asking for. I look for a top marginal rate of 55 percent on every dollar earned above some really high amount, like $3 million. I am also more open to raising the retirement age in certain trades and professions than most liberals are, so I'd accept some kind of deal on that. I will note, jdr, that Social Security IS solvent, into the 2040s. But retirement age would have to be part of a deal, so fine. Medicare is more complicated.

I'd look at modestly increasing the Medicare tax, currently 2.9 percent (split between employer and employee) for most people. By the way, I'd also look at raising the cap on the Soc Sec tax. It is currently around $107,000. I'd look at slight increases in Medicare recipients' copays, but only slight. But the big savings in Medicare is where Obama is trying to get it, in moving away from fee-for-service and toward other models of reimbursement. That is complicated and dull and takes a decade to see what works, but that is how you save money and save the program.

I ask federal agencies to cut 1 percent across the board (it's more than it sounds like, and it'll add up). Or maybe up to 2 percent. But ideally, I want to spend a lot MORE on pressing public needs. Rural broadband. Innovation. Transportation. Our obsolete rail-freight system. Alternative energy sources.

Eventually, frankly, when the economy is better, I raise everybody's taxes. Not a lot, but a little. Bill Clinton did it. He survived. He also oversaw the best economy we've had in the last 40 years, AND he balanced the budget.

The Democrats are far, far less dishonest than the Republicans. Ryan isn't right to say all that money is "borrowed." A portion of it is, but only a portion. Democrats have their sacred cows, but they are at least trying to grapple with a real problem in real ways. Republicans are tying to impose ideological articles of faith on reality.