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Debt talks: What's government for? [Most commented]

July 14, 2011 | 12:29 pm

Capitol in Washington-Alex Brandon-AP

The solution to the national debt is likely to be short-term, Op-Ed columnist Doyle McManus writes Thursday, with the problem coming down to an asymmetry between the two sides. President Obama is willing to compromise -- in order to solve the problem at hand and to prove he's capable of mediating -- but Republicans think his proposed spending cuts are too slow and small, and they won't budge on the tax issue.

Republicans who waiver from the party's position on taxes will likely be challenged in the primaries, and, unlike Obama, Boehner's job as speaker doesn't depend on votes from swing voters; he needs a majority of Republican members of the House, a tougher audience.

If the president is reelected in 2012, McManus said, he's likely to face Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, a situation that could make the current negotiations look like a walk in the park.

Here's an excerpt from the column:

One more asymmetry: Obama appears to relish the chance the crisis has given him to cast himself as the responsible adult in Washington's playground wars, admonishing congressional leaders to eat their peas. Boehner and [Senate GOP leader Mitch] McConnell would much rather turn the spotlight on unemployment and the apparent failure of Obama's stimulus plan, issues that helped them win seats in 2010. That's another reason they're willing to cut a deal. [...]

Both sides agree that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security need to be reined in. Both sides agree that tax reform is the best way to increase tax revenues. But they still disagree on how quickly spending should come down and on whether taxes on the wealthy should go up.

And there's no guarantee that the American electorate will offer a crisp, clear verdict. Most voters say they want low taxes and a smaller deficit, spending restraint but no cuts in Medicare or Social Security. Voters say they like divided government as a check on both parties.

In response, readers had a few conversations about the topic of national debt on the discussion board.

Isn’t government investment in the U.S. the best way to fix things?

Just a question: How is government spending a drag on the economy? Don't all of those dollars end up in the US economy? Isn't that why government spending is considered a stimulus for the economy? Republicans act as if money spent by our government goes down some sort of hole and is never seen again, and yet those dollars end up in the pockets of businesses and individuals all over the country.

In contrast, tax cuts for the wealthy often end up invested overseas. Tax cuts for corporations can be and are often invested overseas creating jobs somewhere else.

Seems like one of the best ways to "Buy American" is to buy more government services with our tax dollars, especially if it buys us services that are needed like education, health care, infrastructure, etc.

So again how exactly is government spending a drag on our economy? Someone please explain that concept to me.

-- nirmalanow

They’re spending other people’s money on the unproductive, in response to nirmalanow

How is government spending a drag on the economy?

Healthy economies make stuff that other people want. In other words, they're productive. The government itself has no money ... it is our tax money that they spend, (at least until recently when they can simply get Bernanke to print it and devalue it, or get China to loan it to us).

Ultimately, government programs take money from the productive and redistribute it to the non-productive. It's an ideology and illusion that works until the government runs out of other people's money, which is what we are currently witnessing. 


We need to cut back spending, but taxes don’t seem like the end of the world, in response to JeffersonNotHamilton

[...] I want good roads, good schools, good healthcare, a good scientific research community, a strong military, a healthy environment, beautiful state and national parks to visit and much more that is provided by government.

Seems to me government makes a lot of stuff I want. Who or what are the "non-productive" you refer to that the government redistributes money to? Does giving that same money to wealthy people always result in the money going to productive causes? Do rich people never waste money on frivolous luxuries or invest it in other countries?

To be clear, I do not think we can keep spending borrowed money  without dire consequences, and so we do need to cut back spending where we can and eventually balance the budget like Clinton did. I just do not understand how taking money as taxes and spending it in the economy is harmful to the economy. From the perspective of the overall economy, does it really matter if the government spends a dollar of my money or if I spend that same dollar myself?


Replace the borrowed money with taxes 

The Republicans are correct in saying that we need to bring down the debt, even if they are the ones who borrowed and spent without restraint for most of the last ten years turning Clinton's surpluses into record deficits while trashing our economy. But what I do not get is why we cannot replace some of the borrowing with taxes to thereby bring down the debt. How is it so "bad" for the economy to replace some of that excessive borrowing with taxes?


The money for things like good roads got spent on someone’s pet project, in response to nirmalanow

[...] You want good roads? Well, we have a gas tax, vehicle registration fees and tolls that are supposed to be paying for just that. Except that money got raided to pay for other pet projects, so the money is now gone.  

You want good healthcare? Well, the government runs Medicare. Ask some folks on Medicare if they think it's good. If they're being honest, the answer will be no.  

You want a good scientific research community?  Tell me, which lifesaving drugs did the government make?  As far as I've heard, the government made none.  

Please tell me about any government program, other than defense and the justice system, that the government runs more efficiently than the private sector.

Post office?  Food stamp program (with people taking their cards and gambling with them)?   Anything?  

Government lacks the accountability to be as productive as private enterprise.  There is also no profit motive ... no drive to become more efficient.  

--trust no one

The Republicans overspent and then the Democrats overspent faster, in response to nirmalanow

[...] The Republicans spent and spent and spent over the last 10 yrs, but when the Democrats held the Congress in 2006, they didn't slow spending. In fact, they increased it, spending dramatically, saying it was needed to get the economy going again. $700 billion spent and still nothing to show for it except debt for your kids and my kids. 

Government spending and bailouts will not save the economy. Small and midsize companies hiring will. Give those folks a tax break and watch more additional money enter the economy and hiring pick up. Close tax loopholes that allowed GE to pay zero income tax last year. Dramatically reduce military bases in Japan, Germany, UK and other places where we simply don't need to have that type of presence.

This is basic stuff, but when our leaders on both sides have been bought by wasteful special interests (ethanol lobby, oil companies, food companies, banks, etc.), we run on ice.

These are basic things.

--trust no one

Democrats shouldn’t have put the budget off for so long

Honesty, integrity, transparency ... what happened?

Constitutionally, this budget was due in September 2010. Congressional Democrats voted to put it off until December, and again voted in December to put it off until 2011. Had they done their constitutional duty on time rather than kissing it off until now, all this political spin would not be happening now.

It's all documented on the public Congressional Record. Democrats have no one to blame but themselves. They ran the House, Senate, and presidency when the budget was supposed to be completed. Their political ploy by voting to put it off fools no one ... except those who fail to read the public record.


*Spelling errors in the above comments were corrected.


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Photo: The U.S. Capitol on Thursday. Credit: Alex Brandon / Associated Press

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