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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,887
October 25, 2017
How to Cut - Not Add To - the Deficit
By Mike McManus

Senate Republicans abandoned a key fiscal doctrine by agreeing to seek a massive tax cut that would add $1.5 trillion to the federal debt over the next decade. Republicans have criticized spending or tax proposals that would increase the federal debt that recently hit $20 trillion.

No longer! Instead of cutting spending or plugging tax loopholes to pay for the proposed tax cut - Republicans are seeking a massive tax cut that they claim will so stimulate the economy that the cuts will pay for themselves - with no evidence.

"The president and members of Congress have spent years warning of our large and growing national debt and have said their goal was to pursue tax reform that doesn't make that debt worse," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "It is extremely disheartening that the Senate budget may be abandoning that commitment."

What I propose is a way to do the opposite - dramatically reduce the federal deficit. Social Security incurred a $65 billion deficit in 2015. If its solvency is not restored, Social Security recipients would suffer a 21% cut in benefits in 2029.

A non-partisan group, Voice of the People, has proposed how to restore its solvency. It has framed possible solutions to a scientific sample of the population. Its proposed solutions include pro and con arguments that are agreed to by top Democratic and Republican congressional staffers. What's encouraging is that three quarters of scientific sample of 8,500 people were able to agree on four major solutions that would cover two-thirds of the Social Security deficit.

  1. Reduce benefits for the richest 25% of beneficiaries was supported by 76% of people including 72% of Republicans and 81% of Democrats.
  2. Raise the full retirement age from 67 to 68 was supported by 8 of 10 Americans, including 81% of Republicans. But only slightly less than half support raising it 69.
  3. Raise the cap on taxable earnings from $117,000 to $215,000 over a decade won an 88% support. This step is the biggest deficit-cutter.
  4. Raise payroll taxes from 6.2% of income to 6.6%, was backed by 76% of Americans.

Admittedly, these are only the opinions of 8,500 people - and have had zero impact on Congress. What if these were the opinions of a million citizens? Neither the Administration nor Congress could ignore the issue any longer!

An American Town Meeting to Fix Social Security

I have proposed a strategy to Voice of the People to harness the power of the mass media to inform the public on the need for change and on specific options to fix the Social Security deficit. We would give individual citizens a way to "ballot" on the choices. Specifically, I will ask CBS or ABC plus CNN and/or PBS - plus the print media: TIME, and the Associated Press who can reach all U.S. newspapers - to collaborate in creating an "American Town Meeting to Fix Social Security." What's encouraging is Voice of the People has accepted my proposal. What might it look like?

  1. TIME could publish a cover story on a Saturday this winter on the pros and cons of Social Security choices.
  2. CBS would air a 90-minute Special on Sunday night on the same Social Security choices.
  3. AP would publish a package of stories on the choices that any paper could publish that weekend, localizing the content by interviewing local people.
  4. PBS & CNN would air shows that week with their own documentary on the options followed by a live citizen debate on the pros and cons.
  5. Citizens could "ballot" on the options via Facebook, Twitter, etc.

I ran a project like this in Metro New York some years ago that involved WABC, WCBS,
WNBC and 15 smaller stations broadcasting 5 one-hour TV shows on such issues as Housing, Poverty and Environment. In addition, 28 daily newspapers framed the same issues, and I organized 20,000 people in small Town Meeting groups. We also published a paperback book that sold 100,000 copies. Some 122,000 people mailed in "ballots." One result: there was a consensus that low income workers should be subsidized, and the six U.S. Senators from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut introduced a bill that became the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Why not cut the federal deficit - rather than add to it?

Give the American people a voice on how to do so!

Copyright (c) 2017 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. For previous columns go to Hit Search for any topic.

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