Time to deal with the elephants in the room
By: David Coughlin
The two Presidential candidates refuse to acknowledge the “elephant in the room” and prefer to deal with issues only after it deteriorates into a national crisis. Unfortunately there is not one, but a half dozen elephants in the room and American voters will no longer allow our politicians to ignore them as they pander for their votes. This Presidential election is the perfect time to deal with these issues with commitments to finally address these major, long term problems. The candidate who demonstrates the best understanding of the issues and offers reasoned ideas will earn the voter’s support.
Out-of-control government spending is the biggest elephant rampaging through the room. The annual deficits have set new records and the national debt has grown astronomically. Continuing resolution debates and extending the spending limits only delay any real long term solution. The first candidate to propose a bipartisan commission to develop a plan by yearend 2012 to achieve a balanced budget in the near term would demonstrate political leadership and earn voter respect.
Our tax code is the big ugly elephant that tramples others in its wake. Out tax code is so large and so complex that billions are wasted just trying to comply and limit our tax liability. Now the IRS has been expanded to enforce new health care compliance. The first candidate to vow that they would simplify and reform the tax code by yearend 2012 would earn voter accolades for finally addressing this long term problem. A key requirement for this bipartisan solution would be to consider all alternatives including completely replacing the existing income taxes with a flat consumption or value-added tax.
Our health care system was the best in the world, but costs have been rising at an unsustainable rate. Medicare routinely spends more than it collects. Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal and state governments, but lack of continued federal subsidies have threatened state budgets with bankruptcy. Despite public resistance, ObamaCare was introduced to use central management of health insurance to coerce this industry to hold down costs. Once passed, ObamaCare benefits were found to be over-promised and costs under-estimated causing a further drain on the over-burdened federal budget. Repealing ObamaCare as Romney suggests will not fix all of the problems. Whichever candidate promises a bipartisan commission to address the root causes and develop a long term sustainable plan for health care would demonstrate understanding of the scope of the problem and a vision for a long term sustainable solution.
The issue of immigration has only gotten worse over the last 40 years. Comprehensive immigration reform was last attempted in 1986 with amnesty offered for illegal immigrants, but borders were not effectively closed, legal sanctions were not uniformly enforced, and immigration gradually increased. Illegal immigrants are over-whelming our entry level job market, our health care systems, our education systems, and our welfare systems. Offering amnesty to millions of illegal aliens only makes these systems worse, since it does not discourage further illegal immigration. The first candidate who commits to addressing these underlying problems by yearend 2012 with a bipartisan plan would earn the gratitude and probably the vote of concerned Americans.
Social Security is the oldest entitlement and the one that has recently begun outspending its funding. Most people alive today have paid into the Social Security system their whole lives, and look to this program to provide income in their retirement years. The pay-as-you-go (Ponzi-like) funding model depends on new workers paying the benefits for the retirees, but demographics has undermined this model’s sustainability. The first candidate who promises to develop a bipartisan plan to put Social Security on a sustainable basis long term will please seniors today and younger voters who doubt this system’s viability long term. This solution must look at short term changes to fix the funding problem, but also evaluate long term solutions to return to the original personal accounts as originally conceived in 1935.
National Defense is perhaps the most important elephant in the room because defense is an explicit responsibility of the federal government in the Constitution. Providing for common defense has been termed “discretionary” with affordability driving funding levels. National security is an extension of foreign policy and the first candidate who demonstrates they understands that the security of the country and its national interests drive the size of the defense spending, not what can we afford. This recognition of this critical mission will earn the nation’s trust and vote as commander-in-chief.
These six elephants have been treated like untouchable issues and ignored, avoided because they are so large and so complex and there is no easy solution. Commitment to seek bipartisan work to agree on the problems to be solved, understand the root causes of those problems, and design solutions to address the issues both in the short term and in the long term. Key design factors will be preserving what is good in the current systems while delivering the desired improvements and functionality at an affordable cost.
This is a Presidential election year. The choice should not be “Anybody But Obama” vs. the “Anti-Romney.” The time for speeches is past. The time for real pragmatic solutions is now. Voters yearn for leadership in this uncertain time. The first candidate to display the vision how they will address these key issues will earn the voter’s trust and the electoral victory.
David Coughlin is a political pundit, editor of the policy action planning web site “Return to Common Sense,” and an active member of the White Plains Tea Party. He retired from IBM after a short career in the U.S. Army. He currently resides with his wife of 40 years in Hawthorne, NY. He was educated at West Point (Bachelor of Science, 1971) and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (Masters, Administrative Science, 1976).