The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 7, 2013

Kevin Wilson, guest columnist: Fiscal disaster like scene from Camp Swampy

By Kevin Wilson
Special to The Globe

NEOSHO, Mo. — So our leaders in Washington kept us from falling off the fiscal cliff by raising taxes and then punting on the tough decisions regarding spending cuts.

I guess we are kind of like Sgt. Snorkel in the comic strip “Beetle Bailey” when he drives the jeep off the cliff and saves himself by grabbing a vine on the way down. He usually relies on Beetle Bailey to go for help as he dangles far down the side of the cliff waiting to fall. Of course, in the comics we never see the rescue, but since he’s back the next day we know that he has survived.

If the country is Sgt. Snorkel, then Congress and the president must be a real life version of Beetle Bailey and if that’s the case, can we truly trust that they will rescue us before we plunge to our fiscal death?  I don’t know about you but I’m just a little scared about that prospect.

Congress created this “fiscal cliff” scenario and made it so bad that they knew that they had to come to some kind of compromise to head it off. Well, they did, sort of. The agreement reached raised taxes on the rich but did nothing to address the spending cuts that were supposed to go along with the increase in revenue.  So when is that going to happen? In true political fashion it’s going to happen “later.” Why am I so skeptical that later is never going to get here until it’s too late?

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that in two months (the time frame that was agreed upon) both sides will  come up with cuts that everyone can agree on. Where will those cuts be? Let’s take a look at the makeup of the federal budget and then you can speculate how the cuts might play out.

Four budget items make up 75 percent of overall government spending. Those items are health, Social Security, defense and income security (a conglomeration of programs that provide cash or near-cash assistance for low-income and disabled individuals). After the big four, there’s interest on public debt, education, environmental spending and international affairs. All other spending amounts to about 8.6 percent of the total budget.  

All total, federal spending for fiscal year 2012 is going to be $3.8 trillion and the amount added to our federal deficit for just one year is going to be $1.327 trillion, which brings our gross federal deficit to a whopping $16.351 trillion.  All these figures come from the website  

So what do we cut? When I was in Jefferson City, I heard from a lot of folks who wanted us to cut spending.  But often when I would start talking about certain programs, the person complaining would say “Oh, you can’t cut that one, it does so much good.”

Well, folks, we can’t have our cake and eat it, too. If we are going to get serious about getting our federal deficit under control, then everything — and I do mean everything — has to be on the table. And all of us have to be willing to accept less help from the government.

In the case of the federal budget, I don’t see how we are ever going to get out of the fiscal mess that we have gotten ourselves into without serious discussions of actual cuts and not just reducing the amount of the increases. Until we are prepared to do that, then we aren’t doing anything to solve our fiscal crisis. We are going to move from one fiscal cliff to another until one time Beetle Bailey isn’t going to be able to get help in time to save us.

I just pray that our leaders in Washington come to realize that we can only tempt fate for so long before that happens. In the next two months will we see true leadership and a spirit of statesmanship that puts the good of the country before the good of the party or will we see more of what we have gotten over the last few months? Time will tell, but I’m not overly optimistic that statesmanship will triumph over political gamesmanship.

Kevin Wilson, a former state legislator, lives in Neosho.