The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 4, 2010

Our View: Tough choices lie ahead


The Free Press

— It’s not too early for newly elected members of Congress to cut the celebrations short and get mentally ready for some very tough choices that lie ahead.

They will definitely not be “in Kansas anymore” as the cliche goes. And given the campaign rhetoric there will not only be intense scrutiny of these tough choices, but a very ready and willing electorate ready to continue its four-year pattern to remove those who don’t improve.

The choices don’t get easier through the next two years, they get tougher. Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the nonpartisan budget watchdog group Concord Coalition, put it this way: “Few candidates have had anything useful to say about realistic fiscal solutions. To the contrary, many new members of Congress will have been elected on pledges to forswear the very things that will be needed: spending cuts in popular entitlement programs and defense, tax increases and, most of all, compromise.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann demonstrated this in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper the day after the election. Cooper pressed her to say if she believed cuts to Medicare and Social Security were going to be necessary. She didn’t commit, but only said both systems need reform, though she took effort to point that just recently Social Security is taking in less money than it is paying out.

So, logically then, a person who sees the imbalance as a problem and wants to reduce the deficit of Social Security would either have to reduce benefits or increase the Social Security taxes. We’ll leave it up to readers to speculate which one Bachmann would prefer.

For a reality check, members of Congress should consider the cuts in federal spending proposed by Brian Riedl, of the conservative Heritage Foundation. Free Press conservative columnist Cal Thomas recently recommended  Riedl’s cuts as doable cuts Congress should consider. We agree they’re doable.

Riedl’s proposals would reduce federal spending by $343 billion, cutting the annual deficit by about a third. Among those cuts that might raise some objections, even among Republicans, include: eliminating the Small Business Administration, which he says “unnecessarily intervenes in free markets” for a savings of $1 billion.

Riedl recommends cutting increases in veterans health care for a savings of $2.5 billion and reducing veterans disability compensation for $1.9 billion in savings. Other recommendations include eliminating farm subsidies ($15 billion) and substitute crop insurance, eliminate Foreign Agricultural Service that helps farmers market to other countries (savings of $2 billion).

He also recommends charging food business fees for the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service instead of using $1 billion in taxpayer funds.

In education, he recommends cutting college Pell grants to their 2009 funding level, thereby saving $8 billion. In health care, Riedl would save $3.7 billion by requiring co-payments for home health care under Medicare.

His proposals number more than three dozen. There’s no doubt they are doable. But we could find a list of current members of Congress, both parties, who at one point or another voted to increase spending on the cuts he recommends. This is how difficult this is going to be. Newcomers will, as history has shown, understand the reality of cutting federal spending that is often not readily apparent on the campaign trail.

We say more power to whoever can pull it off. We’re just playing a little doubting Thomas. We won’t believe it until we see it.