January 06, 2011

Congress Dances Up Against the Ceiling

Afflicted as I am with the common cold (rhinovirus? coronavirus? I know not), I find myself with a few more morning hours of wakefulness than I would choose to have under other, more healthful circumstances. To wit, I'm under the weather. Let us call this Day 4 of the Cold, the first (Monday) being largely symptom-free until later in the day, when a peculiar taste of almonds took up residence in the back of my sore throat. Then general malaise, that useful French word for which the English equivalent is "malaise," sneezing, as the viruses began using the cells of my upper respiratory tract to be fruitful and multiply. By the millions and millions. Day 2 marked the development of post-nasal drip and clear congestion in the nose, fatigue, and a subnormal temperature (pathognonomic for cold versus flu, except for H1N1, but there's no way I could have that; I mean, all those blackbirds falling out of the sky worldwide are simply auditioning for Birds II: This Time It's Over). Day 3 (Wednesday) introduced me to a chartreuse form of mucosal discharge (TMI, I know), a dry cough, more sneezing, a headache, a slight rise in temperature (the white blood cells at last mounting a counter-attack), and a curious euphoria that made me think I was better already, except I wasn't. Today (Thursday) is like a mature form of Tuesday. It's said a cold will last 14 days if you treat it, two weeks if you ignore it, but the symptoms are only aggravating for the first 6 to 9 days, depending on the severity. One thing about living alone is that there is virtually no secondary gain from illness, so I'm motivated to forget about this annoying cold as soon as possible, and I promise never to mention it again.

Now, a word from Frank Sinatra:

This is the classic "Dancing on the Ceiling" by Jule Styne and Betty Comden; I'm sorry, but I just can't get myself to take Lionel Richie seriously about anything, although I'm sure Richie made more money than Jule Styne with one song ("All Night Long") than Jule did writing what I consider the greatest standard ever written ("Just In Time"). I think Lionel was kind of rubbing it in by writing a cheesy disco tune with the same "Dancing on the Ceiling" title as Jule and Betty's great song, but such are the ways of progress and the relentless debasement of popular culture.

Yet it is Congress which now dances up against the ceiling, the debt ceiling in this case. Off to your right you can watch the National Debt Clock whirl away. The Klowns only gave themselves leeway up to $14.3 trillion last time they raised it. After that, the federal government supposedly loses its "authority" to spend money and must "shut down." Here's the key point on the National Debt Ceiling: it's utterly meaningless. Many of the Tea Party Reps and Senators made a big issue of the debt ceiling when they were elected (Rand Paul being one of the more vociferous), but they're caught in a strange version of Catch-22: if they seriously tried to stop the government from borrowing more money to stay in business, then their own salaries, those of their staffs, the whole apparatus of Congress, would also close down and terminate, and the very oxygen which sustains them (publicity) would also disappear. This leaves them in a rather obvious contradiction now, because they did make such a huge deal of the National Debt Ceiling when they were shucking and jiving their way to Washington. Hell, even Barack Obama voted against raising the National Debt Ceiling in 2006, when he was briefly a senator, once Barry was absolutely certain there were enough votes in the Senate to ensure that the ceiling would be raised anyway.

As I said the other day, Congress absolutely depends on you, me and every other American never paying any attention to the hard numbers involved in the "budget debate." If we really analyzed this freely-available data, published monthly by the Treasury Department with lots of details and lots of forecasts for the coming year, we would immediately see the absurdity of all this talk about a "balanced budget." The United States has never been farther away from a balanced budget. This year Congress will spend about $3.8 trillion, and about $1 trillion will be for various forms of defense and "security." There has never been a time in the history of the American Republic when the U.S. Treasury ever received even three trillion dollars in taxes and receipts.

So how will Orangeman and the Tea Party (maybe the GOP could stand for "Grand Orange Pekoe") learn to live on about $2.4 trillion per year, which is what the government plans to take in for fiscal 2011? (I don't think it will make that much, now that it's given away about $400 billion in tax revenues with its end-of-the-year "bipartisan compromise.") That's a good one, huh? What's the point of reducing federal spending to $3.7 trillion per year except as Kabuki theater for the rubes in the cheap seats? That's what I mean about how completely these dorks count on us falling asleep in civics class.

So hell yeah, Rand, I'll take what you said to Judge Napolitano recently on TV seriously: you think we ought to live within our means, within that roughly $200 billion per month, and I'll give you credit for actually using a realistic number for your calculations. Here's one idea: leave Social Security alone. It has a free-standing funding mechanism, the FICA tax, which would require only raising the cap above the present $100,000 limitation to put it back in the black (and doing away with that suicidal reduction in the employee's share of FICA). So that's okay, and that's about $790 billion per year. The Department of Health and Human Services, which adminsters Medicare, has a budget of about $900 billion per year. Listen up, Rand: do you think you're going to turn all those over-65 people loose to take their chances with private insurers? Here's a clue: I pay $718 per month to Blue Shield with a $5000 deductible, and Blue Shield just announced it plans a 59% rate hike. Using my 1950's-era grade school math skills, that tells me I'm looking at $1,141 per month, and being out of pocket $18,692 per year before I draw my first dollar of benefits. That's not a lot less than I made as an annual salary at my first lawyer job out of law school. How many seniors do you think might wind up uninsured, especially since they would be rated at higher premiums? When their medical premiums exceed 100% of the Social Security they receive?

Are you beginning to feel the room heat up a little, Rand? We're coming very close to the Tea Party's Golden Fleece: the defense budget. As a benchmark, Russia, our perennial nemesis, our death-struggle foe, the Mutual in Mutual Assured Destruction, spends about $40 billion per year (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/mo-budget.htm). China, our new nemesis and rival for world domination, spends about $77 billion. How about this approach? We'll add these two together = $117 billion, and spend that. I know, ridiculous. Okay, how about we double that figure and spend $234 billion per year, and reduce the defense budget by about $800 billion? We're living on our income now. We still have about half a tril to cover the rest of the federal government's basic services, and that will be enough. The old folks are secure, the country's safe, the courts are functioning, the national parks are open for business, and Congress can meet about two or three times a year to conduct what little business will be left.

Works for me. Let's balance that sucker. Otherwise, just cave in now and shut the hell up.

1 comment:

  1. Machipongo John5:52 PM

    I hope that when ManTan Man et al. pass a law repealing ObamaCare, they include a clause that makes the insurance companies repeal the premium increases they imposed in preparation for ObamaCare.