Be Your Own Catfood Commission

Via Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice, I just proved I am a Very Serious Person by putting the federal budget in surplus by 2015. Here is the NYTimes gizmo.

How I did it - 71% in revenue increases and 29% in spending cuts. What I raised - the estate tax to Clinton era levels (raised $50 billion), added a bank tax (raised $73 billion), added a millionaire's tax (raised $50 billion), let the Bush tax cuts expire (raised $226 billion), raised the FICA ceiling (raised $50 billion). For spending cuts I adopted these proposals - reduced Social Security benefits for high earners (saved $6 billion), enacted medical malpractice reform (saved $8 billion), reduced the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to 30,000 by 2013 (saved $86 billion), made defense spending cuts (saving $57 billion), eliminated farm subsidies (saved $14 billion) and "earmarks" (saved $14 billion.)

I did not even use the "close tax loopholes" option which could have saved $136 billion. The reason I did not is because that more than ever is the phoniest nonsense of all. "Tax loopholes" never go away. Ever. And I still do not get how eliminating "earmarks" saves money. Anyway, so how "serious am I? I put the federal budget into $248 billion surplus by 2015. With bipartisan ideas even. Name me budget czar!

Speaking for me only

< Obama's Still Big, It's The Presidency That Got Small | Report on David Headley and Pakistani Military Officials >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Keep your grubby hands off Social Security! (5.00 / 3) (#3)
    by oculus on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:22:14 PM EST

    Sure (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:26:10 PM EST
    Here's the $6 billion back. I'm still at A $242 BILLION surplus.



    FICA (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by cal1942 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:49:43 PM EST
    raised the FICA ceiling (raised $50 billion)

    Please leave FICA out of any budget deliberations.

    Social Security is NOT a part of the budget and doesn't belong in ANY budget discussion.


    I can think of no good reason why (5.00 / 2) (#36)
    by Anne on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:59:41 PM EST
    Social Security tax should not be levied on income above $106,800 - but I agree that the whole matter of Social Security does not belong in a discussion of budget and deficit issues.

    Whatever increase in revenue is collected by Social Security has no impact on the deficit - although it would end any discussion of having to cut benefits, ever.

    Would have much preferred to see something on that chart that said: "While the draft of the report of the Deficit Commission co-chairs included recommendations with regard to Social Security, we have not included any Social Security-related options here as Social Security is not part of the federal budget and does not affect the deficit."

    Guess it's too much to expect, huh?


    Agree, wholeheartedly. (5.00 / 1) (#58)
    by Chuck0 on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 08:22:02 AM EST
    Why do I have to pay FICA on 100% of my income when the CEO of the defense company I work for doesn't? I say end the cap. Or put a donut hole in there. Say no FICA on income between $250,000 and $500,000. Then tax every penny below $250,000 and over $500,000. Anyone making that kind of moola can surely afford it.

    Yeah (none / 0) (#56)
    by cal1942 on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 06:57:01 AM EST
    Far too much to expect.  

    I agree with raising FICA withholding above $106,800 to insure full benefits.  A simple and obvious solution that's apparently beyond our capability.  Conservatives are still battling to make Social Security vulnerable and what troubles me is that Democrats aren't making the obvious argument.

    It was inappropriate for the Times to include Social Security in their budget game.

    I don't know when it started but someone or some group, probably a past administration, started subtracting the annual Social Security surplus from the budget deficit to give the illusion of a smaller deficit.  

    The deficit is reported in the news using that illusion to this day.

    Clinton only had one actual surplus, his last budget.  The other "surplus" was only possible if the Social Security surplus was subtracted from the deficit.


    The idea that I disagree with in (5.00 / 4) (#10)
    by MO Blue on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:32:11 PM EST
    BTD's budget cutting has to do with Social Security.

    reduced Social Security benefits for high earners (saved $6 billion)

    IMO we want to stay away from any scenario that can be used to portray Social Security as a welfare program. People with higher incomes already pay taxes on their SS benefits where people with lower incomes do not. The $6 billion save is not sufficient to offset the meme that higher income people are not getting enough for their money and therefore the program should allow them to invest some or all of their money elsewhere etc.


    That's exactly why I didn't (5.00 / 4) (#11)
    by andgarden on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:36:29 PM EST
    apply that cut.

    Great minds and all that (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by MO Blue on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:43:19 PM EST
    Means testing of any kind IMO is a very bad idea.

    I'm (5.00 / 3) (#35)
    by cal1942 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:59:17 PM EST
    taxed on 80% of my Social Security benefit.  NOt complaining at all. I SHOULD pay taxes on SS benefits.

    If you can put your mits on mine then benefit cuts are on the table and they don't belong on any table.

    Repeating once again:

    Social Security is NOT a part of the budget.

    Even mentioning Social Security in a story about the budget is dangerous and wrong.

    If Obama had anything in him at all, if he were anything but a rank mediocrity he'd tell the CFC to eliminate Social Security from any budget discussion.  In fact if he was anything more than mediocre he wouldn't have created the CFC in the first place.


    taxes and SS income (none / 0) (#24)
    by the capstan on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:42:18 PM EST
    More than half of my SS income is taxable, and my total income is a tad less than $50,000.

    Means-testing SS? (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by seabe on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:25:49 PM EST
    No thanks. More than cutting it for everyone, that is what Simpson and Bowles want.

    as soon as SS and Medicare are means-tested (5.00 / 3) (#34)
    by desmoinesdem on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:57:26 PM EST
    They will be on the chopping block. I agree with you.

    Raising the FICA cap makes total sense, though.


    Agree (5.00 / 1) (#41)
    by cal1942 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 03:32:59 PM EST
    Means testing for SS undermines SS.  

    Eventually SS would lose support from people with good incomes and that would be a death sentence for the whole thing.


    Ok (none / 0) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:27:32 PM EST
    No raising the FICA tax. Still have a $192 billion surplus.



    I'm ok with getting rid of the FICA cap. (none / 0) (#17)
    by oculus on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:24:53 PM EST
    Should be a "dogfood commission" (5.00 / 3) (#13)
    by TeresaInSnow2 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:42:14 PM EST
    When I worked in software, we had a term called "eating your own dogfood".  The idea was that dogfood would be a whole lot more palatable if its makers had to eat it themselves.  So, as we were developing products, we had to use them ourselves as our PRODUCTION products.  If the software didn't work, it was our work that suffered.  Essentially, we ate our own dogfood.

    If the Catfood Commission were the Dogfood Commission, they would have to LIVE any change they made to Social Security.  They'd have to live on cut benefits, they couldn't retire until age 70, etc, etc.  I know this is unrealistic, but you get my gist.

    I suspect the proposed policies would be a whole lot different under the Dogfood Commission.

    The earmarks debate is (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by inclusiveheart on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:48:55 PM EST
    interesting.  Earmarks are not a bad vehicle for spending - they are directed spending - there are earmarks that look "bad" - some that are good in reality when taken out of context look bad - but you can't realize savings by ending the practice of earmarking monies for expenditure.  I would actually wager that you'd see far more waste and fraud were Congress to be handing out monies without stipulating how and where they should be spent.

    Slush funds!  That's what America needs! /s

    I returned to Clinton era estate and income (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by esmense on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:46:05 PM EST
    taxes, cut military spending and drew down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, took the cap off FICA contributions, converted the mortgage deduction to a credit, limited Medicare spending increases and reduced the number of federal contractors. And made some reduction to non-combat military veterans' benefits. I achieved a $306 billion surplus by 2015.
    I did not touch the retirement age, change the way inflation is scored for Social Security, or further restrict eligibility for disability benefits. I don't believe it is necessary to do those things -- but even more important, I think that to doing them in this economic climate would create great social pain and work against economic recovery.

    For similar reasons I did not eliminate earmarks, farm subsidies or reduce the federal workforce or its pay. I also did not reduce the Navy and Air Force fleets. You can make credible arguments for wastefulness in all of these things -- and in better times I might want to readdress these decisions. But, in today's economic environment, these kind of eliminations and reductions would cause much more dramatic and painful hardships for the American middle and working class than I think most people realize. In my experience, Americans are very deluded about how much their own economic well being and that of their region, industry, etc., is dependent on federal spending and support. Cutting the number of federal employees, for instance, could mean cutting some of the only dependable middle class jobs in many small towns in the country's less populated regions.

    As someone who has spent the bulk of my working life in Washington state -- a state that wouldn't have emerged from its own personal depression in the lates 60s and early 70s without the shameless advocacy of the two all time Senatorial greats of pork barrel politics, Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson, I know that while easily and often abused, "earmarks" play a much bigger, and sometimes much needed, part in economic stability and growth than many would like to admit.

    I think there's a credible argument (5.00 / 1) (#38)
    by andgarden on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 03:15:29 PM EST
    that farm subsidies hurt poor people even in a bad economy. I would cut farm subsidies and ratchet up the food stamp program.

    But what about the struggling family (none / 0) (#39)
    by oculus on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 03:25:18 PM EST
    farmers?  Yes, I know, there are hardly any left.

    i don't think they're on the recieving end (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by nycstray on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 03:28:27 PM EST
    or why have we lost so many (real) small family dairies etc recently. . . .

    Small family farms (none / 0) (#50)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 08:04:37 PM EST
    don't qualify for federal subsidies.  They get loan guarantees.  Small dairy farms are forever in crisis because the price of milk fluctuates wildly, which mega-agri-industrial-farms -- the ones that keep their cows tied to stalls indoors for their entire lives -- can ride out but the family farms can't.

    Unfortunately, government is so enmeshed (none / 0) (#46)
    by esmense on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 04:04:09 PM EST
    in every stage of agricultural production, distribution, marketing, etc., that I don't think you can just lop off parts of that support without causing significant economic disruption. There's likely to be a huge difference between ideological expectations and pragmatic results (programs like agricultural subsidies are, after all, adopted to solve pragmatic problems as perceived by specific interests -- problems that don't disappear because the subsidy disappears). I think that the ultimate impact for both producers and consumers would likely prove to be greatly underestimated -- because I know how greatly most Americans underestimate government involvement in agriculture and its contribution to the varied and relatively (and in many cases artificially) cheap food supply we do enjoy.

    Before we start dismantling programs that have such a great impact, I'd like to be a little more confident that we actually understand what we are doing.


    Well said, but (none / 0) (#51)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 08:06:29 PM EST
    although i agree it's complicated and needs very careful examination, my understanding is that many of the farm subsidy programs were created decades ago to solve problems that no longer exist and not only can be cut but should be for the health of the entire system, which they greatly distort.

    The exercise does take it out of (none / 0) (#42)
    by ruffian on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 03:34:44 PM EST
    context of the health if the economy as a whole, which is of course what many of the deficit hawks do. There are other things I would be fine with cutting if we were not already at double digit unemployment.

    I thought earmarks don't cost any extra $$ (5.00 / 1) (#33)
    by desmoinesdem on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:56:10 PM EST
    All they do is specify how certain portions of money must be allocated, so that Congress makes that call instead of executive branch employees. From previous things I've read, eliminating earmarks wouldn't cut spending at all unless Congress also reduced the total money appropriated for, say, building highways.

    How dare you (5.00 / 1) (#47)
    by waldenpond on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 07:11:41 PM EST
    accuse a 'liberal' paper (it's on the Dems side dontcha know) of parroting right wing lies about SS and earmarks like every other 'liberal' media entity.

    Eliminate Corporate Tax Deductions (5.00 / 1) (#37)
    by kgoudy on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 03:00:57 PM EST
    If they would eliminate the corporate and business tax deduction for advertising and political contributions over 250 we'd balance the budget. The superbowl would not be as fun for the commercials, but it would even out a lot of stuff if the payments for commercials, including political commercials, were not a tax deduction.

    Closing the deficit is child's play (5.00 / 2) (#48)
    by s5 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 07:45:54 PM EST
    I did it too. Return taxation to Clinton-era levels, cut off unnecessary wars, and you're done. My budget is in surplus by 2030.

    There's really no reason to debate the deficit. Clinton left the budget in surplus, then Bush cut taxes, started two wars and ran us into deficit. So, simple solution: stop doing what Bush did, and go back to what Clinton did.

    Now, where's the NY Times interactive graphic for fixing global warming?

    Let's take taxation (none / 0) (#52)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 08:07:59 PM EST
    back to Kennedy-era, if not Eisenhower era.

    Good god no... (none / 0) (#57)
    by kdog on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 08:15:36 AM EST
    we'd have 25% in prison or on parole instead of just 10%...while the billionaires bleed us dry to pay their higher nuts.

    We could be back in the black, or damn close, on spending cuts alone, specifically targeting the spending causing direct harm to our citizens first.



    What? (none / 0) (#59)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 08:51:54 AM EST
    Not following your train of logic at all.

    Kennedy era... (none / 0) (#60)
    by kdog on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 09:17:40 AM EST
    tax rates would give the feds too much money.  If you were in charge of allocating it I might be down G, but we both know the extra cash ain't gonna go to the NEA, its going to the DEA or DHS.

    And the Waltons ain't just gonna eat it...it will be passed on to their customers and/or come out of the "associates" paychecks.


    The feds (none / 0) (#62)
    by Warren Terrer on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 09:55:16 AM EST
    can create money any time they want to. The US dollar is a fiat currency. So your concerns about giving the feds too much money are unwarranted.

    Why have income taxes then? (none / 0) (#63)
    by kdog on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 10:18:08 AM EST
    If it's as simple as firing up the printers at the mint, can I keep my gross? :)

    I didn't say (none / 0) (#64)
    by Warren Terrer on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 10:33:09 AM EST
    it was a simple as that. Taxation does serve a purpose, even in a fiat money system. But its purpose isn't to provide money for the government to spend, since the government can create all the money it wants.

    And if it were up to me you could keep your gross :)


    Here's a place (none / 0) (#65)
    by Warren Terrer on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 10:35:22 AM EST
    to start [link].

    Better yet, does Peter Orszag know about this (none / 0) (#1)
    by rhbrandon on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:16:18 PM EST

    Or should I say, Jacob Lew? (none / 0) (#2)
    by rhbrandon on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:17:25 PM EST
    My split is 65/35 (none / 0) (#7)
    by andgarden on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:29:29 PM EST
    In order to get a surplus, I undid the entire Bush tax cut and reduced the employer healthcare tax break. But my biggest savings were in taking a hatchet to the military.

    I did not touch Social Security on Medicare.

    And if there were an option (none / 0) (#9)
    by andgarden on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:31:35 PM EST
    to subject all income to the payroll tax, I would have done that too.

    Hooray (5.00 / 1) (#43)
    by cal1942 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 03:48:47 PM EST
    Withhold FICA from Capital gains.

    For that matter return income tax rates on incomes over 200K (corrected for inflation)to the pre-Reagan administration level.  

    The Clinton increases were too low and the capital gains rates offered were after the Clinton/GOP cut from 25 to 20 percent.

    My cuts were to military only.  

    No cuts in military compensation or veterans benefits.

    Social Security doesn't belong in the discussion.  Not a part of the budget.

    The sums listed for cuts to Medicare are picayune compared to the whole and are not worth the  hardship to the most vulnerable among us.

    Surplus for 2015 $204 billion.


    I think I borrowed your hatchet :) (none / 0) (#12)
    by nycstray on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:40:55 PM EST
    I still (none / 0) (#8)
    by Ga6thDem on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 01:29:43 PM EST
    keep saying that the dolts in the WH could use your advice.

    Would it help reduce the deficit if U.S. (none / 0) (#16)
    by oculus on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:24:17 PM EST
    returned to the gold standard?  Do I need to worry about this?  

    If the Times publishes a LTE (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by andgarden on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:31:33 PM EST
    questioning why we shouldn't adopt the salt standard, it's mine.

    I'm at 52/48 (none / 0) (#19)
    by ruffian on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:34:35 PM EST
    Took a hatchet to space and size of the military, and capped medicare spending. Took all taxes to Clinton levels, plus added a carbon tax and bank tax.

    Keep the middle class tax cuts, or keep more government and defense jobs? I elected to keep the jobs.

    How the heck do you cap medicare (none / 0) (#20)
    by oculus on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:35:51 PM EST
    spending?  Penalize the patients/doctors/and/or hospitals?  Death panels?

    Briefly says it would crackdown (none / 0) (#22)
    by ruffian on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:39:55 PM EST
    on hospitals and doctors with the highest costs.

    I may have been influenced by Krugman (none / 0) (#23)
    by ruffian on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:41:07 PM EST
    this morning on ABC. He said in a few years we will realize that a sales tax and death panels are basically our only options to save Medicare.

    Krugman (none / 0) (#44)
    by cal1942 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 03:51:38 PM EST
    doesn't come off very well on the air.

    I simply disagree with him (none / 0) (#45)
    by andgarden on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 03:52:54 PM EST
    about the implementation of a VAT. It's regressive, and in any case there's much more to be had from higher income taxes.

    Serious question: How many MRIs does a 90-year (none / 0) (#25)
    by steviez314 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:43:32 PM EST
    old woman need, if no matter what they find, the doctors wouldn't operate or probably even treat?

    Let's spend some tax dollars in hiring (none / 0) (#27)
    by oculus on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:45:14 PM EST
    competent and numerous Medicare fraud investigators.  

    Yes! (none / 0) (#30)
    by ruffian on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:49:31 PM EST
    They didn't really have all the options on the table. I would have liked to see  single payer system for all.

    Not a "serious" exercise at all.


    I think we do have to answer questions like that (none / 0) (#29)
    by ruffian on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:47:17 PM EST
    Off the top of my head I would say one after the age of  someplace in the mid 80's is allowed.

    Better question (none / 0) (#49)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 07:59:23 PM EST
    How many 90-yo women get multiple MRIs?  Heck, how many 90-yo women (or men) get even one MRI?

    More than you think. Medicare covers it, doctors (none / 0) (#53)
    by steviez314 on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 08:48:06 PM EST
    will prescribe it "just to cover all the bases".

    My mother turned it down a few months ago once the doctor admitted they wouldn't even bother to treat anything they found.

    Remember, 30% of Medicare is used in the last year of life.  And not usually to make the patient feel better (maybe emotionally, but not medically).

    I am not being cavalier about this--I have seen elderly friends and relatives both insist upon those useless treatments and also refuse all the costly (not even to them) stuff.  I have no idea what I'd do when the time comes, but it is an issue.


    But it's not because of MRIs (none / 0) (#54)
    by gyrfalcon on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 10:01:21 PM EST
    It's because of ICU stays at the very end, and before that one minor to major health problem after another as this or that physical system starts to falter-- broken hips, incontinence, atrial fibrillation, cataracts, hearing problems, vertigo, on and on and on and on.

    I with you -- I made similar decisions (none / 0) (#32)
    by esmense on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:55:11 PM EST
    This is not an economy in which we should be cutting jobs.

    Well, well, well. Still call yourself a centrist (none / 0) (#21)
    by oldpro on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:37:58 PM EST

    That was then.  This is now and the evidence is in.

    BTD is a pragmatic progressive.

    Works for me (with a couple of minor adjustments).

    Unfortunately, it won't work for the Democrats who are neither pragmatists nor progrssive.

    Would sure like to know why the cut backs (none / 0) (#26)
    by oculus on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 02:43:59 PM EST
    on defense in Afghanistan.  Big change, no?

    Back to the military (none / 0) (#55)
    by NYShooter on Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 11:28:49 PM EST
    "The military" is to Republicans as "guns" are to the NRA, don`t touch it, can`t go there, off the table, period.

    But in keeping with the analogy mode, like "banks are where the money is," "the military is where the deficits are."

    Just because some things are thought of as untouchable we've seen that with the proper focus, determination, and salesmanship even the holiest of the holy can be flipped. Examples abound: Poor, indigent souls become greedy, Cadillac driving welfare queens, inheritance tax becomes the death tax, highly trained, educated scientists become elite pinheads, and bold & brave bills introduced by Republicans become wasteful budget busters if introduced by Democrats.

    Its all about salesmanship, and during this horrible great recession someone has to explain to the public why the United States needs a military  greater than ALL the militaries of the world combined. I mean, how many Naval battle groups do we need to fend off the next attack by terrorists wielding box cutters?

    Get those guys who did "Harry & Louise" and the budget deficits of today will disappear by tomorrow.

    Interesting (none / 0) (#61)
    by Warren Terrer on Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 09:52:19 AM EST
    But keep in mind that a budget surplus is anti-stimulative.