I am not going to say much about the budget politics for now because a lot of what each side is doing at this point is gamesmanship in the lead up to the negotiations. It is going to be a long process and most Americans get bored by it or cynical about it. But this is a really important year that demands the "higher angels of our nature" if deficit reduction is to be done in a way that is for the common good.
The three things I am most concerned to see are:
- 1. Cuts in military spending. While even the president’s opening position involves way less cutting than I think is right, it is significant that cuts are finally on the table. After 10 years of post 9/11 deficit creating military spending we are at least talking about it being politically plausible to propose cuts in the military. I hope that the initial Republican position of ruling out cuts in the military is political posturing on their part, because there is no way to achieve serious deficit reduction without taking out the scissors to the military budget. In fact, I don’t know if most Americans are aware that the leadership brass of the military has actually been saying for a number of years that one of the most significant challenges to the security of our country is our fiscal crisis. So I hope a significant bridge is crossed and we at least stop the upward trend and hopefully even cut. Defense Secretary Gates again called for these cuts today.
- 2. Protection of key liberal standards like Social Security, Medicaid/Medicare, community health centers and community block grants. Given the terrible cuts having to be done at the state level, it would be a terrible time to see the federal government pull back on key social safety net provisions.
- 3. Tax reform. If there is one big issue upon which there should be bipartisan consensus it is this, but because it is complicated and messy it will take more leadership than Obama has been willing to give it so far.