Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How We Cut and What We Cut

Today, President Obama in a speech set out a rough-sketch plan for how he would propose that United States make headway on its budget deficit.  There are certain to be many who disagree with him about his plan.  Speaker John Boehner, for example, made sharp criticisms that the plan does not go nearly far enough.  It is obvious that Obama’s plan could be attacked by both those that are further right and further left of Speaker Boehner.  Also, this speech seems to signal that Obama understands that—whether he likes or not—cutting the deficit will be a major issue during the next presidential election cycle.  Because of this, it is likely that those both on the left and the right will have ample time to make their case.

In contrast, this sort of conversation has largely been absent from the latest round of budget cuts used to round up a majority of those in Congress to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year.  In that process, we did not hear much from our leaders about what should be cut and what should not; about how much is too much and how much is not enough; and about the consequences—both in the short term and in the long term—of taking one path instead of another. 

Instead, what we saw was a series of political compromises that have gone on behind closed doors, with no public explanation or examination.  For example, as part of the recent budget compromise, as I already mentioned earlier this week, it seems that Congress has decided to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list.  Recently, it also became clear that compromise entailed stripping funding from the Department of the Interior’s Wild Land Initiative, cutting federal funding to state greenhouse gas programs, and in fact substantial cuts in a myriad of additional environmental programs

Certainly cutting the deficit will enviably call for sacrifices.  That, in fact, is the reason that cutting the deficit is so difficult.  However, I find it disturbing that discussion and analysis of what we ought to do have been replaced by mere after-the-fact reports of deals that our politicians have struck.  While I believe that we need to take drastic steps to cut the deficit, these cuts should come from reasoned analysis and public debate.  If we are going to tackle the deficit, it will take real political leadership and courage.  This is an instance where adding to backroom politics just won’t cut it. 

-- Brigham Daniels

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