Jim Wallis is concerned about the federal deficit, as well he should be. In a column at Sojourners today, he takes a whack at solving what has become the single biggest political conundrum in Washington: how to make a serious dent in the deficit without causing increased unemployment among congresscritters. Unfortunately, his “solution” only demonstrates that he doesn’t really think the deficit is a serious problem after all:
The good news is that in three easy steps, we can head much closer to a balanced budget and quickly reduce the deficit to a more sustainable level. There is an added bonus: We can also significantly reduce extreme poverty.
First, it’s time to cut needless military spending….Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul came up with a plan that they say would leave our country just as safe but save us $960 billion by 2020!
That amounts to $96 billion a year over the next ten years. So what’s next?
Second, return tax rates for the wealthy back to Clinton-era levels of 39.6 percent from the Bush top level of 35 percent.
OK. There’s debate over the effect that would have on an economy that needs investment, but let’s go with it. This is the famous $700 billion that various folks claimed the feds couldn’t forgo without unleashing the wrath of God, or something like that. But that figure is shorthand for “$700 billion over the next ten years.” So again, we’re talking about a much smaller amount–$70 billion–that could be used to reduce the deficit each year. Finally, there’s this:
Third, eliminate farm subsidies….Simply eliminating these subsidies would save taxpayers the equivalent of getting rid of every last earmark from our budget.
I happen to agree with Wallis here–most farm subsidies go to agribusiness that doesn’t need them. There’s just one problem: they only total about $20 billion.
So, add together Wallis’ three “easy steps” to a “more sustainable” deficit, and you’ve only got about $186 billion a year in savings. That might be a start, but it doesn’t even begin to bring a deficit of over $1.4 trillion under control.
The fact is that there’s no way to do so unless the matter of entitlements is engaged. At the least, I think it is time to means-test both Social Security and Medicare and raise the retirement age. I can’t find figures on what those two moves will save, but I can’t help but think that it would dwarf what you’d get from eliminating farm subsidies. If Wallis is ready to discuss entitlements, then I’ll change the title on this post.