On Monday, Ezra Klein shared what seems to be the explanation for the White House's passivity.
That is, their eye is on the ball, but it isn't the ball that will provide affordable care to most people. They want reform in order to cut the federal deficit.
Washingtonians are always getting fixated on the deficit, the accumulated amount the government spends that exceeds what it takes in from taxes. And the deficit is huge -- $1.4 trillion dollars, whatever that means. I'm not going to pretend that a number that big actually means anything to me. The government gets the money that it spends but doesn't have on hand by borrowing it through issuing bonds; this costs money in the form of interest paid to the people/countries that buy the bonds.
All this sounds scary, but it shouldn't. Compared to the overall size of the U.S. economy, those numbers aren't so large. And their scale is not unprecedented as this chart shows.
But the real reason that deficit concerns shouldn't be constraining what sort of health care reform we're allowed to have is that the deficit would be easy to fix if the country stopped operating on one or both of two nonsensical premises we are trapping ourselves in. There are obvious solutions that break through false constraints we pretend limit our options.
- We could raise more taxes from people who have more than they need. We used to. In the Eisenhower era, all these Wall Street rip-off artists who've been robbing us blind would have been taxed at a 91 percent rate. In 1986, they would have paid 50 percent of income. But thanks to the best Congresses and Presidents that their money could buy, nowadays they pay only 35 percent of their income for the common good. They could pay more -- really, does anyone need more than $250,000 a year? I doubt it.
- We could cut our bloated military budget. In 2009, what with two wars of dubious use to us, some 900 bases around the world, nearly 1.5 million troops, dozens of weapons systems in use or development, and the management structure to keep track of all this, the military sucked up somewhere between $900 billion and $1.1 trillion. Or at least that's more or less what they tell us -- since a lot of secrecy prevails, actual costs may be more, much more. Expenditures on our war apparatus are something like six or seven times those of the country with the next largest military (China). If we really wanted to pay down the federal deficit, we could probably cut half of this without noticeable loss of security. After all, the last set of folks who actually injured a large number of people in this country did the deed with box cutters and scheduled airline flights. This war budget is "patriotic" waste that lines the pockets of "defense" industries and the politicians they buy -- but keeps us from attending to the actual needs of the people.