With the Republicans on their way in as leaders of the House, Tea Party activists ratcheting up their attacks on a hated federal government and President Obama sounding more and more like a whipped dog, we're going to hear a lot of talk in the next few weeks about cuts to the huge federal budget deficit.
Of course, most of this is just talk, since almost nobody is willing to do the two things that would really make a deficit dent: raise taxes and cut the military.
You can cut welfare, education and highway-to-nowhere earmarks until programs are in tatters, but when you're spending countless billions in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no end in sight (and decades of residual spending as we take care of our veterans and pay interest on our war debt) and keeping tax rates relatively low, the red ink will stay at flood tide.
Of course, you can always drastically cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
But with the 2012 election already underway and older voters proving their clout in what was for Democrats the carnage of 2010, you can bet not a lot of politicians in either party are going to push for that.
We already know that with the exception of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the National Council of Jewish Women, major Jewish groups regard the tax cut issue as radioactive, mostly because their big donors tend to love paying less to Uncle Sam.
I wonder: will any of these mute groups, which care so deeply about possible hits to health and human services programs,have the nerve to speak up about the military spending issue? I'm guessing not.
Memo to Washington: wars are unbelievably expensive, and their costs continue to be a drain on the economy for decades. I'm not saying it's wrong to go to war or to prepare for war. But you can't talk about cutting the deficit with a straight face without talking about defense spending, as well as the impact of tax cuts and entitlements that no politician who wants to keep his or her job will seriously cut.
Until politicians stop pretending that defense spending is somehow unrelated to the rest of the economy, the hole we're digging for our children, grandchildren and beyond will just keep getting deeper. This isn't a partisan issue; both parties are playing political games on the deficit issue. Save your fingers and don't send in comments calling me a radical liberal; it doesn't take liberalism to know defense spending is a big part of the deficit equation, just simple math.
Sadly, what we're likely to see now is a PR blitz by Congress – loudly supporting cuts in specific health and social programs that benefit people without much clout, while retaining Bush-era tax cuts, keeping military spending sacrosanct - and continuing to whine about out-of-control spending advocated by the other party.
Which means the deficit will continue to grow, unless by some miracle we experience a sudden economic boom. And I don't hear any economists saying that's around the corner.
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