Deficit Reduction by Philosophy

Crossposted from DemConWatch

Scott lays out all the numbers. And numerically, he's certainly correct. We'll have to do a number of things to get the deficit under control. And if you want to see what you'd like to cut, click here for the Budget Calculator which shows what is saved, program by program, based on the choices you make.

But the determination of how to measure out the ingredients in the recipe is based 100% on philosophy. Whether the recipe sells is predicated on politics and message control, but at base, it's philosophical.

The Ryan plan, and other privatization plans are based on the philosophy that people should stand on their own two feet and accept no government help. And we can all take blame for the rise of someone like Paul. Years ago, when Medicare and Social Security were a gangrenous foot, no one would modify the programs, they were considered the third rail. Thus, no cutting off the foot to save the leg. There were modifications that could have been made decades ago, but now we've got gangrene up into the thigh. We can still save part of the leg, but Ryan and his ilk want to cut off the whole leg. And as Scott's numbers show, it won't be enough. Not only that, but there is a set of numbers he doesn't present: what happens if the elderly have no Social Security and no health care?

First, the number of homeless rises. Then, the number of sick brought to the hospital (generally by ambulance after they collapse on the street) greatly rises. Talk about an unfunded mandate on every hospital in America. And the food banks. And every charity: none of which have enough money to care for the number of people currently asking for help. 

Do we have to recalculate how we care for our sick and elderly? Sure. The Economist, in the 7 April edition, has a great special section on that. (Sadly, you need a subscription to read it online, I greatly advise you either buy a copy or read one in the local library. You can see some of it online, but not enough of it.) They point out that across the developed nations, retirement age needs to rise, and with that, how companies treat their employees needs to change also. That is, the current system says that seniority equals power, but for people in their 60's, most people want less “power” and more ability to mentor, share knowledge, and have personal flexibility. It's a little different here in the US as people change jobs far more often than those in Europe and Asia, but still there are great ways to use skills and talents. The section also points out that not all jobs are created equal: someone sitting at a computer into his 70's is doing easier work than digging ditches, and thus there needs to be a scaled response of retirement ages pegged to the type of work. They do not mention, but it is certainly a given, that the longer people work not only do they collect later, but they pay in longer, thus affecting the balance of input and outgo. 

Philosophically, I'm in favour of raising retirement ages, while instituting programs that keep people working who want to work longer, and even doing away with early retirement at 62, with exceptions for physical limitations. I'm in favour of revamping Medicare and Medicaid as part of an overall Single Payer system which solves the financial problems of both programs, and lowers costs across the board once certain cost controls are put in place. (Um, they're actually there now, they're just not transparent.)

Then, I'd like to see the military budget cut and have us cease being the world's policeman. Imagine if each “send the troops” piece of legislation were debated publicly like other aspects of the budget. Fewer would support paying.

Finally, I say raise taxes. And yes, start with me. I'd be glad to pay 10% more than I pay now for the improvements I want. I think we've become so tax-averse that we fail to see that taxes are nothing more than a payment for services. 

So, play with the budget. If it looks familiar, yes, we've linked to it before. Then come back with what YOU want to cut, and what YOU are willing to pay for. It's not just the dollars, it's the belief system, too. 

Reform Movement Condemns Ryan 2012 Budget Proposal

— Mark J. Pelavin, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Congressman Ryan’s budget resolution prioritizes the wealthy over the needy, and, therefore, does not reflect the values to which we aspire as Reform Jews and as Americans.

The moral impact of a budget is measured by its effect on the person most in need. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) 2012 budget resolution fails on this count. By ending entitlement status for Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and by privatizing Medicare, Congressman Ryan’s proposal, if adopted, would fundamentally and unjustly restructure our commitment to seniors and low-income families. By extending additional tax breaks to wealthy individuals and corporations, it would undoubtedly expose additional social safety net programs to budget cuts.

More after the jump.
Deuteronomy commands, “Do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.” On the basis of this precept the Reform Movement has long opposed block granting and privatization of entitlement programs. For, as the Union for Reform Judaism’s 1981 resolution on the federal budget stated, “It is a pernicious idea that somehow the poor, or public assistance to the poor, is the cause of our economic problems and that solutions at their expense are permissible.” For the same reason, the Union for Reform Judaism in 2001 opposed “tax policies that unfairly and inequitably bestow their benefits on the wealthy” and that “restrict the government’s ability to address urgent needs.” Congressman Ryan’s budget resolution prioritizes the wealthy over the needy, and, therefore, does not reflect the values to which we aspire as Reform Jews and as Americans.

Currently, the federal government matches state spending to cover all individuals who are eligible for Medicaid. Congressman Ryan’s proposal would convert Medicaid into a block grant program, eliminating federal requirements for the program and giving states a predetermined amount of money to spend on health care for the poor, disabled, and elderly. The resolution would make similar changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Whether or not states maintain their commitment to populations in need of assistance would be a matter subject to shifting political winds and short-term economic considerations.

The Ryan proposal would also end Medicare as we know it, substituting the current single-payer model with a system in which seniors would need to choose from a variety of private health insurance policies. Seniors would be eligible for vouchers to pay for the private insurance based on need. This plan would expose seniors to the iniquities and imperfections of the for-profit health care system, causing more seniors to fall victim to poverty and would drive up the cost of health care.

In addition, the proposal is a microcosm of the misguided priorities that created the budget crisis in the first place, lavishing even more tax breaks on the individuals and corporations whose need is least acute. At a time when the federal government brings in less revenue as a percentage of GDP than at any time since President Truman occupied the Oval Office, Congressman Ryan proposes reducing the top corporate and individual income tax rate from 35 to 25 percent for the highest earners. Giving the well-heeled yet another handout would threaten even more social safety net programs with deep cuts.

We call on Congress to pass a 2012 budget that restores fiscal order in a responsible and moral manner-one that would not force the disadvantaged to shoulder the burden of budget cuts.

Paul Ryan’s Budget Cuts Would Dismantle Medicare, Medicaid

Planned Reliance on Private Insurance Will Hurt Seniors and Neediest

— Sharon Bender

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) proposed a 2012 Federal budget that would drastically cut-and fundamentally damage-important health programs Medicaid and Medicare.  These are programs on which millions of vulnerable Americans rely for help meeting their most important and least affordable need: health care.  


The proposed budget does not control health costs or encourage efficiencies in the broader health care system; it simply relies on dramatic cuts, with a staggering impact on the elderly. By making Medicaid a block grant while creating a decreasingly valuable Medicare voucher, this bill would deal a devastating double-blow to older adults as well as the disabled.

This proposal would end the guaranteed Medicare coverage as we know it for the next generation of seniors (starting in 2022, which impacts those born since 1957) and replace it with a voucher to buy health care in the private insurance market-a market with a poor track record of providing affordable, quality health insurance to older people.  Even more troubling, these vouchers would not keep pace with the rising cost of all health care, about which this plan does nothing.

In order to reduce deficits, the budget proposal would transform Medicaid into a block grant program while dramatically reducing the federal contribution to the program. This would no longer allow the program to expand based on the number of qualified people in need. Rather, it saves money simply by offering reduced benefits or covering fewer people. “Anyone can cut the budget by arbitrarily capping programs,” said Allan J. Jacobs, B’nai B’rith interim international president. “The real challenge we face is to reduce the deficit without decimating help for the neediest among us, or making retirement impossible for the next generation. This means we must be straightforward with one another about how we are saving money. Unfortunately the savings in this budget seem to come simply from doing less for the people who need the most.”  

More after the jump.
B’nai B’rith is disturbed and frankly surprised by the attempt to privatize Medicare. Past experiments with privatization in Medicare have not saved money. Instead, they have created additional spending and unnecessary confusion without providing better health outcomes.  

“Adding private plans into the mix has already created a highly confusing maze through which the elderly must wade, especially in Medicare Part D, without providing savings to the government or better choices for the consumer,”  B’nai B’rith Director of Aging Policy Rachel Goldberg, Ph.D., said. “The savings in this budget come not from theoretical-but-never-realized-efficiencies of the private market, but by cutting the amount spent per beneficiary.”

B’nai B’rith is also troubled by the peculiar references to Social Security in this budget proposal, including certain “triggers” that would be created to “force” action on Social Security.  As in 1983 (the last time major reforms of Social Security were made) changes to make Social Security stronger can and should be made by experts and policymakers working together, with Social Security solvency and sufficiency as their goal. These triggers are not an appropriate mechanism to replace responsible actions.

B’nai B’rith is fully aware of the steep deficits this nation faces. But blind cuts that don’t take into account  long-term consequences could lead to greater expenses as more and more people fall through our valued and needed social safety nets.

Musing on Friction

— State Senator Daylin Leach

I like to think of myself as a pretty worldly guy. I’ve been to the rodeo. I’ve eaten the Easter Peeps. I’ve paid full price for a muffler. But every once in a while, something so outrageous, so off-the-charts awful happens (like Celine Dion making a new album) that even I am shocked.

Such a thing happened last Tuesday in Harrisburg when our new Governor, Tom Corbett gave his budget address. I entered the Hall of the House for the joint session all prepared. I had my ankle warmers and flask of hot cocoa, because one can get cold in the capitol. The Senator sitting next to me had his flask of Jaegermeister, because one can get sober in the capitol.

I was wearing my “Tony Luke’s Makes the Best Sausage” T-Shirt (I get a small fee) and my giant foam hand with extended index finger in case Corbett mentioned Temple University and my jar of mace, in case… well… just in case.

The governor’s speech started off promisingly enough in that he didn’t trip walking up the stairs. That is no small thing. In 1822 Governor Joseph Heister fell off of the dais during his budget address and hit his head. For the rest of his term he could not be persuaded that he wasn’t a large chicken, which led to some very restrictive, yet innovative agricultural legislation.

While there was much in Mr. Corbett’s budget I disagreed with, that is for another day. After the address was over, I dragged my neighboring Senator (he finished his flask) back to his office and started lazily paging through the 1,124 page Policy Statement which accompanied the budget. In it, I found something truly shocking.

Governor Corbett included the following paragraph which set forth a new policy on how we regulate. It turns out that the Governor wants a “friction free” relationship between regulators and the industries they regulate.

Regulatory Reform: Friction-free processes for government interaction with job creators are critical to maintain economic momentum and competitiveness. State government needs to be a partner with job creators. To address the length of time agencies take to act on permits and eliminate permit backlogs, PennDOT and DEP have begun auditing and assessing all of their permit processes to make them more responsive to the needs of job creators. In addition, the DCED secretary is empowered to expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

This is troubling. “Friction-free” relationships are very rare in the best of circumstances. I haven’t had a friction free relationship since my imaginary friend Dodo, when I was a kid. But by the time I turned 40, even he came to loath me.

Historically, friction doesn’t arise because regulators like Woody Allen movies and Industrialists don’t. There is only one reason for “friction,” which is that industry doesn’t like to be told they can’t dump poisons in lakes or mercury in the air or have to give their workers bathroom breaks. So in other words, a “friction-free” environment sounds frightfully like a regulation free environment.

Things then go from bad to worse. Under this new policy directive, those who head our regulatory agencies (the Secretaries of Department of Environmental Protection, Labor and Industry, etc.) will lose their power to make regulatory decisions.

Now, in order “to be more responsive to the needs of job-creators” (very little is ever said about the needs of “job-doers“) the Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development is “empowered to expedite any permit or other action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

Ok, lets stop there. What will our actual regulators now do since they are losing their ability to regulate. One word… Yahtzee!!

Keep in mind, that this strips the departments of their control over when to issue permits, and “any…other action.” Presumably going to the rest room now requires a call to DCED.

Of course, this only applies if “creation of jobs may be impacted.” I suppose this could have been broader. It could apply “only if air is being breathed somewhere” or “only if Lindsey Lohan is getting arrested.” But this is pretty darn broad.

Any regulation could theoretically impact the creation of jobs. For example if a regulation says you have to clean up a stream you polluted, that will cost money that could have gone to hire someone to dump more pollution into that stream. Or if a regulation says you can’t beat employees with rubber tubing, the guy who beats folks is suddenly on the street.

Finally its bad enough that there is a guy whose job is to stop health, safety, worker and consumer regulations. But its even worse when you realize who that guy is. The head of DCED is a man named C. Alan Walker.

Let me start off by saying that I do not know Mr. Walker. I have never met him. He may be a perfectly delightful man. Maybe he buys flowers for his wife on her birthday. Maybe he buys flowers for my wife on her birthday. God knows someone should. That said, his public record does not instill great confidence that he will be a strict guardian of our safety.

First, he has given $184,000 to Governor Corbett over the years. That sounds like a Kool-Aid drinker to me. I don’t have many $184,000 donors (although I am open to meeting them!). But if I did, I doubt I’d have a very arms-length relationship with them.

He is also the head of one coal company and has an ownership interest in an unknown number of other coal companies. That is also strange. At any given time, I know exactly how many coal companies I own. He also has a history of polluting and refusing to clean up until a court makes him.

More after the jump.
One Senator said to me that he’s not surprised that the Corbett Administration is doing this. He’s just surprised that they are saying it out loud. (No, this was not the Senator with the empty flask). But I disagree. Nothing like this has ever been done in the United States before, ever. This looks to be a hyper-aggressive move to gut our health and safety laws for the benefit of wealthy corporations. I’m starting to miss Governor Heister.  

Troubling Cuts Proposed in President’s Budget


New York Times’ interactive guide to Obama’s 2012 Budget Proposal

— Sharon Bender

B’nai B’rith International is deeply concerned about a variety of both foreign and domestic cuts President Obama is proposing in the budget plan he unveiled on Feb.14. Though mindful of the very real need to rein in the massive deficit, the president’s budget proposal could have a severe, negative impact on some of the most vulnerable population sectors in the nation, while proposed cuts to foreign aid could hurt America’s standing in the world.

The budget represents the president’s funding priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

More after the jump
B’nai B’rith recognizes the need to carefully address the deficit during what is still a difficult economic time in this country. But the impact of some of the proposed cuts could have devastating, long-term consequences both inside and outside this country.

On the domestic front, a five year proposed freeze could eventually jeopardize a range of aging services programs, especially as the baby boomers begin to retire, and older Americans continue to have a difficult time finding work.  

Cuts in the president’s proposed budget, including much more limited funding for programs that help the very poor and elderly like subsidized housing and home energy assistance (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP) could have troubling consequences.

“We respect that tough times call for tough decisions,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “But we object to budget cuts that will have disproportionate consequences for people who have no other resources for some of their most vital needs.”

B’nai B’rith was encouraged to find that Social Security-which is self-funded and does not contribute to the deficit-is not on the chopping block.

Investments in international affairs only make up about 1.5 percent of the total budget, but the returns of good will and international standing are priceless. Proposed cuts could jeopardize this vital investment.

We are pleased that aid to Israel will remain at levels agreed to in a memorandum of understanding between the United States and Israel.

We are hopeful that aid to Egypt (the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid) will remain at robust levels, which will be essential in ensuring an orderly transition to democracy there.

“We know the president has difficult choices to make and bringing down the deficit should be a priority for the country,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “But investing in America’s name and reputation abroad pays off in priceless ways.”

The president’s 2012 budget comes out just days after the new House leadership proposed harsh cuts to the remainder of the 2011 budget.

B’nai B’rith is hopeful that in the weeks and months to come, the understandable interest in deficit reduction does not push out reasoned discussion of the real world consequences of cuts on a global scale and to essential social services and programs for the most vulnerable.

B’nai Brith Encouraged as Deficit Commission Rejects Flawed Plan

— Sharon Bender

The deficit commission failed to get the necessary votes to report recommendations to Congress for a plan which if passed, would have included deep cuts to Medicare and Social Security according to a Chairman’s report introduced in November and finalized this week.  The plan would have left American seniors at a great disadvantage in the wake of a slow economic recovery and continued high health care costs.  Especially troubling aspects were suggested caps on Medicare spending and increased premiums, combined with Social Security cuts that placed vital care and services for older adults out of their reach.

More after the jump.
The Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform had delayed voting until Dec. 3 in hopes of securing the 14 votes needed to send the recommendations to Congress for a vote.  B’nai B’rith is encouraged that the proposal lacked widespread endorsement, as these draconian cuts imperil the health and welfare of millions of Americans who rely on Social Security and Medicare benefits for the income support and fundamental health services they need. However, it is likely that many severe cuts to health and senior services will emerge in future plans to reduce the deficit.

B’nai B’rith International has long been invested in the welfare and concerns of aging adults, and is concerned about continuing efforts to place the burden of repairing America’s growing deficit on those who can least afford to pay by targeting  Social Security and Medicare benefits for unrealistic cuts.

“We are encouraged that they couldn’t get the votes for these harmful proposals,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “Seniors depend on Medicare and Social Security; we should be protecting these programs, not gutting them.”

B’nai B’rith shares President Obama’s concern about the deficit, but firmly believes the approach of the Commission was inequitable, and its focus on Social Security and Medicare was inappropriate.  On the surface, some of the proposals look plausible. But digging deeper, it’s apparent the plan would drastically reduce benefits over time.

“I have no illusions that the failure to get the votes means that these attacks on Medicare and Social Security will go away,” B’nai B’rith Director of Aging Policy Rachel Goldberg, Ph.D., said. “We will remain vigilant and prepared to protect these programs during the next Congress.”

We support the effort to achieve fiscal responsibility and we recognize that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve that goal without shared sacrifice. However, we do not believe it can or should come at the expense of the most vulnerable Americans.

Trivedi and Gerlach Speak On Wide Range of Issues

Publisher Dan Loeb speaks with Congressman Jim GerlachDr. Daniel Loeb

Every election year since 2006, Temple Beth Hillel Beth El’s Israel Advocacy Committee, Men’s Club and Sisterhood invite the Congressional Candidates for Pennsylvania’s 6th district  to speak to the community, and this year was no exception. Incumbant Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach was followed by his Democratic challenger Dr. Manan Trivedi as they both addressed the crowd and took questions on a wide range of issues.

As was the case in the first debate between Gerlach and Trivedi, there was a small incident before the beginning of the event as the Gerlach campaign asked that the event not be filmed, and all recording equipment was removed. The second debate was televised and can be seen on the PCN website. This forum was not a debate format as the candidates appeared sequentially.

Israel


Both candidates spoke passionately of their support for the Jewish State. As a decorated veteran Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy, Trivedi said

“I was ready to die for Israel because that is what allies do for each other.”

Both candidates were pessimistic about the current peace negotiations. Gerlach said he “saw no signs of a breakthrough there”. Trivedi blamed the Palestinian leadership “We need someone who can come to the negotiating table without preconditions.” Gerlach cited “Gaza’s extreme poverty and lack of educational opportunities which fosters hatred of Israel.” He added that the neighboring Arab countries could do something about the situation in Gaza but they are not interested.

More after the jump.
Trivedi cautioned that we should let Israel take the lead in the peace process. The United States he said “can facilitate, but should not take over” or “draw borderlines”, adding that he was “still waiting for a Palestinian Authority which can deliver on its promises.”  

Trivedi spoke of his Indian heritage which gives him reason to be vigilant yet optimistic. His family and friends who were affected by the terrorist attack last year in Mumbai remind him of the danger posed by terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Hamas who Trivedi insisted we “cannot negotiate with”. Yet he also recalled lessons from his parents’ hometown in India.  Ahmedabad was a city plagued by rioting between its Hindi and Muslim communities following the independence and partition of India in 1947, but the Indian government seeded economic development, and once everyone was more secure financially, suddenly they were less concerned with religious differences with their neighbors.

Gerlach responded to a hypothetical situation proposed by Steve Feldman (Director of the ZOA in Philadelphia) in which the administration were to impose a particular peace proposal by a fixed deadline. “Israel needs to make its own determination of what is a good agreement that it can sign on to. If Obama moves beyond that we can use the appropriations process – the power of the purse.”

Gerlach concluded

“There is strong bipartisan support for the State of Israel, and I imagine this will continue.”

Iran

Both candidates praised the recently passed Iran sanctions. Gerlach was disappointed that Obama has not yet employed the full range of sanctions available. Trivedi concurred. He saw the Iranian sanctions were having a real effect, but he said we need to implement all of the available the sanctions as quickly as possible since “centrifuges do not wait for negotiations.” A questioner asked how he would respond to military action by Israel and Iran. Trivedi said all options have to be on the table including the military option, adding that

“The only thing worse than the military option is a nuclear Iran.”

Afghanistan

The former Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev recently warned that winning a war in Afghanistan is impossible. Gerlach was asked how he would vote on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Gerlach said “I would have to vote ‘no’ because I want to hear from General [David] Petraeus” who is reviewing the United States’ strategy in the region. Gerlach doubted whether Hamid Karzai’s government could stand long without our support.

Trivedi disagreed with Obama’s “surge” of 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan. “I do not think they will cure the ills of Afghanistan.” Trivedi added that he does not trust the Karzai government, and he lamented Obama’s failure to address the opium problem in his “surge speech” since the opium drug trade is endemic to many of the problems in Afghanistan and has corrupted the Karzai administration. Trivedi observed from his experience in Iraq:

“The Military has smart power: nurses, engineers, …

“We can facilitate nation building but we can not impose democracy. It has to well up from within.”

Party Loyalty and Extremism

Both candidates tried to distance themselves from the leadership of their parties.

Manan Trivedi said he did not support Obama’s support of Human Rights initiatives in Israel, applying the Nuclear Non-proliferation ban to Israel or Biden’s insistence of a housing freeze in Jerusalem. Trivedi criticized the implementation of the stimulus bill, disagreed with the surge in Afghanistan and felt that the health reform bill did not address costs.

Trivedi concluded

I will take a good idea whether it comes from a tea party supporter or a left-winger or anything in between. We need a new breed of leaders who have no political chips to cash in.


Matt Hirsch asked Gerlach if there were any issues on which he disagreed with Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner. He cited several votes where he opposed the Bush administration: Overriding Bush’s veto of S-CHIP and supporting stem cell research. In fact, during Gerlach’s first three terms he built a moderate record by voting strategically: voting with his party when his vote was needed and voting with his moderate district when it was not. In this Congress, the Republicans have insisted of party discipline in order to avoid giving a hint of bipartisanship to legislation passed by the Democrats. Accordingly, the Philadelphia Jewish Voice followed up and asked for a more recent example where Gerlach opposed his leadership in the last two years. Gerlach said he supported his leadership on all of the major pieces of legislation: namely in opposing the stimulus package, health-insurance reform and cap-and-trade energy policy. Indeed Gerlach has been much more consistent lately in voting with his leadership though he did vote last July to extend unemployment benefits opposed by the Republican leadership.

Gerlach was also asked to comment on the impact of the tea party movement. Gerlach cited several local tea party groups who he said were “very engaged”. He praised them for “stepping up as citizens” and said “this is a good thing”.

Neither candidate eluded to alleged excesses in the tea party such as racism, rejection of principals such as civil rights or the Separation of Church and State, violence against Lauren Valle in Tennessee and the “citizens arrest” of a reporter in Alaska.

Tax Cuts

The 2001 and 2003 Bush taxes cuts expire at the end of this year. Unless Congress takes action during the lame-duck session or takes retroactive action next year, tax rates will revert to the levels they were at during the Reagan and Clinton administrations. For the richest Americans this would raise their marginal tax rate from 35.0% to 39.6%.

Jim Gerlach said that he along with the entire Republican caucus and “about 50 moderate Democrats” in the House of Representatives favor making the Bush tax cuts permanent. He doubted whether Pelosi would have the political strength to address this issue during the lame-duck session following the upcoming mid-term election. Gerlach also wanted to address the Alternative Minimum Tax which was never indexed and is catching more and more middle-class Americans.

Gerlach’s campaign was distributing “fact sheets” at the synagogue claiming that “Manan Trivedi opposes extending tax relief which will result in the largest tax increase in American history, roughly $2,000 per Pennsylvania family,” but in reality Trivedi  “supports extending tax cuts for all but the über-wealthy.” Trevedi said we needed to return to the old rates only for the portion of taxable income exceeding $250,000 per year. Keeping those tax breaks would cost Americans 700 billion dollars which Trivedi said “we cannot afford.” Economists have observed that tax breaks focused on the richest 2% of Americans “will not stimulate the economy” since “we have a demand side problem not a supply side problem.”

Spending

The Federal Budget for the new fiscal year has not yet been passed so the government is acting under a Continuing Resolution until December 3. Gerlach doubted the new budget would be passed in the lame-duck session but was confident that another Continuing Resolution would be passed to avoid a government shutdown before the new Congress could act on the budget in January.


Gerlach said “the current deficit spending is 20% of gross domestic production whereas historical it has been around 18 to 19%.” In reality, the deficit was 9.91% at the end of last year and it will grow to 10.64% based on the proposed budget which is less than the figure Jim Gerlach cited but still well above deficits seen since the end of World War II.

To solve this problem, Gerlach intends to draw on his experience as a State legislator where the budget had to be balanced. “Only the Federal government does not have a balanced budget requirement”. Calling the current situation “unsustainable”, Gerlach called for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the United States Constitution with exception in times of war or other national emergency similar to that proposed in during the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration. Similar amendments failed to pass the House by the required two-thirds majority in 1982, 1997 and 2005. Once the amendment passes Congress, it would then have to be ratified by 38 states before going into effect.

Gerlach was asked specifically what he would cut in order to balance the budget since entitlements, the military and interest make up 84% of the budget. Gerlach said that all areas of spending have to be under consideration including Medicare and Social Security. Gerlach also pledged to look at defense spending as well.

Manan Trivedi countered that “we need to cut spending, but we need to do it with a surgical knife, not a sledgehammer.”

From Trivedi’s experience in the military, he agrees with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that we need to be more efficient and eliminate unneeded weapon systems. In Iraq, Trivedi saw contractors paid five times more to do half of the work of an enlisted serviceman.

Trivedi called Washington DC an “evidence-free zone” suggesting that by observation we can fund best-practices and drive costs down for a wide range of government programs.

Trivedi sees getting the economy back on track as critical to reestablishing fiscal discipline. Trivedi’s jobs plan will eliminate the 260 billion dollar loophole for companies that ship job oversees.  His jobs plan features tax incentives for small businesses which he called “the motor of our economy.”

Trivedi emphasized stimulating sectors of the economy which have a ripple effect and will provide long-term benefits for the economy. One example was the clean energy economy. Trivedi said we should work on smart grid, wind turbine and solar power technologies. “We are not doing the things the Chinese are doing, and they are going to be the leaders” in green technology and not us if we do not step up to the plate. Similarly, Trivedi wants to invest in infrastructure such as tunnels, roads and light rail here in the Sixth Congressional District and around the country in order to provide jobs right now and continue to create jobs in the future.

Health Care

Gerlach was asked if he would defund the Health-Insurance Reform which he voted against. He said he favored repealing the bill and replacing it with a new one without the “onerous new taxes.” (Gerlach did not explain how he would overcome the anticipated Presidential veto in order to repeal the bill.) Gerlach emphasized buying insurance across state-lines and working on tort reform as a way to drive down costs. He would also work to slow down and delay implementation of certain provision of the Health-Insurance Reform Bill. He did not expect an immediate solution, and expects this to remain an issue for next several administrations.

Trivedi looked at ease on the subject of Health Care and spoke with expertise not only as a battalion surgeon and as a primary care physician, but also as an expert on Health Policy. He received a Masters degree from UCLA in Health Policy and went on to serve as health policy advisor to the Navy Surgeon General and was an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

Gerlach’s handout claimed Trivedi supported a “socialized single-payer medicine scheme.” However, Trivedi denied the allegation.

Trivedi said the Health-Insurance Reform bill was not perfect: it did not address costs and it was too long, but he would have voted for it because it was a step in the right direction. He compared it to other pieces of landmark legislation (such as civil rights legislation which still left many people unable to vote). These bills aspire to historic change but need to be improved over time.

Trivedi rejected repealing the bill as a step in the wrong direction.

“It would cost millions of dollars when we need to balance the budget. This would reintroduce insurance companies into the doctor-patient relationship. This would eliminate guaranteed coverage for those with preexisting conditions.”

Trivedi gave one of his own patients as an example who was unable to obtain coverage even though she was cancer-free because her medical files mentioned the word “cancer”.

To contain costs, Trivedi said we need evidence-based health policy to help drive down costs since “30% of medical treatment makes no difference in outcomes.”

Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El’s Rabbi Neil Cooper asked Manan Trivedi about coverage for mental health. Trivedi answered that “mental health is part and parcel of health care.” He lamented that mental health care has been unfairly stigmatized for generations and as a result post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had not been treated as pro-actively as it should. During his work with the Navy’s Surgeon General, Trivedi drew on his own experience with combat medicine to become one of the early researchers to investigate the unique mental health issues affecting our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Israel Action Committee chairman Lee Bender concluded the event by urging everyone to get out and vote next Tuesday.