Within two weeks, the Murray-Ryan congressional budget committee will report to us whether it has been able to develop a set of recommendations for near-term and long-term federal budgets.
Although that’s a huge and complicated task — we should be happy if the group can even make a start — there are many budget reforms that could be implemented. Some of them are within the scope of the committee’s review, while others fall to other agencies. But all possible reforms should get increasing attention.
I take as the rationale for those reforms a number of simultaneous national goals: increased employment, stimulation of the economy in the short term, long-term budget sustainability, environmental sustainability indefinitely and a lessening of the gulf between the wealth concentrated at the top of our population as compared to the assets of the rest.
(A word about that last item. Today, roughly 25 percent of our total national income goes to the richest 1 percent of citizens. That is the highest rate since 1928. In the 1970s, the richest 1 percent took in 9 percent of the income. Too much of an income gap is corrosive to democracy, unfair in numerous specific ways and bad for the economy. The rich simply cannot spend all that money to create jobs, and the rest of society is left with insufficient funds to fuel the economy’s necessary amount of consumption.)
It is my hope that Murray-Ryan will look hard at the defense budget — already receiving substantial sequestration-mandated cuts — and require additional long-term (next 10 years) cuts. Although defense officials should be allowed more discretion than accompanies sequestration, there are still many wise places to cut.
For example, young, capable, working military retirees who can use their employer-provided health care should be required to do so, rather than using the federally funded Tricare system. We should also reduce outright the number of troops (Army and Marines) we keep in uniform; a number of bipartisan reports have suggested roughly 275,000 personnel could be cut, which would include many noncombat jobs at the Pentagon itself. Note that roughly 42 percent of the defense budget goes to administration, overhead, salaries and benefits.