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Economist Mom

No more sacred cows, Congress: Put everything on the budget-cuts table

Republicans, it's time to put defense spending on the table. Democrats, take down the walls around Social Security and Medicare.

By Guest blogger / January 5, 2011

A cow chills out on the median strip of a major New Delhi street. Sacred cows are free to go wherever they wish, creating challenges for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians. U.S. politicians are just as hands-off with their metaphorical sacred cows of spending. They are different on the two sides of the aisle, but once they've all been 'taken off the table,' Congress has little space in which to balance budget.

Scott Baldauf / The Christian Science Monitor / File

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Even defense spending, even tax expenditures. I did this opening segment of Tuesday’s PBS Newshour broadcast, with my 12-year-old son Johnny watching me in the makeup room and from the “green room”–which made it all the more special. One of my standard favorite lines I didn’t get to squeeze in about the politicians’ take on fiscal responsibility and reducing the deficit: “It seems like a good idea…until you get right down to it”–i.e., it’s always easier in abstract theory than in specific practice.

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As both Jim Horney (of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities) and I emphasize in the interview, everything should be on the budget-cuts table, and in fact, many in Congress like to use that line. But then you listen more carefully and you find Republicans taking revenue increases and defense/national security cuts off the table, and Democrats taking most other types of spending off the table (whether for short-term or longer-term reasons), and you soon realize that what’s really left on the “bipartisan deficit-reduction table”–at least within the current Congress–is really close to nothing. And that’s a huge problem: the contrast between what non-politician budget experts from both the left and the right agree on, and what Congress can’t agree on.

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