27 February 2009

The Obama budget

Reading the WaPo article on Obama's budget yesterday, a few thoughts occurred to me. First, Obama is to be lauded for shifting some of the tax burden toward the wealthy, who have carved off far too much of the pie during the last few decades. Much more shifting is needed, of course, but it's a start.

As for healthcare, any plan that doesn't address costs is doomed. The fact is that our current system doesn't work. Healthcare costs in the U.S. are an obscene joke. You can shift the burden back and forth between the government or insurance schemes, and the end result will be no different as long as costs remain skyhigh. Somebody somewhere is making far too much money for the services provided. Instead of wrinkling our brows as we try to comprehend the barrage of plans and schemes coming from each successive administration, Americans should invest in a trip to any other country with even a semi-successful economy. Healthcare costs tend to be minimal. People simply don't worry about getting sick and not being able to pay. Something's seriously wrong in the U.S. and no amount of tinkering will fix it.

One thing I liked about yesterday's WaPo article was the presentation of the discretionary budget in absolute terms. We saw all these little colored lines a few inches long up and down the side of the graph and this giant line that had to run the entire length of the page to remain in scale. As you guessed, the line referred to military spending. The fact that our bloated military budget was "kept flat" is being applauded as a great success. What a joke! We're in the middle of a financial meltdown, and we still, for some unfathomable reason, must outspend the rest of the entire world combined. I propose a short bill that simply says that U.S. military expenditures, both direct and indirect, must never exceed by more than 10% the expenditures of whichever country has the second biggest military budget in the world. This would bring our military budget down to a tiny fraction of what it current is overnight while encouraging whoever's number two to reduce military spending themselves. We could then expand all of our current discretionary programs and eventually balance the budget. Or we could have free universal healthcare. (What a choice, eh? Shall we spend a trillion each year in the fight over who sells us gas, or have universal healthcare?)

Somewhere in the WaPo article, there was also a for and against discussion, regarding the tax increase on the wealthy. In what is becoming de rigueur in U.S. media, the paper had to interview someone making over 200 grand a year who "did people's hair" and "worked six days a week" and was worried about what it would mean for her. Evidently Joe the Plumber has been replaced by Jane the Hair Stylist. I'm sure that the paper walked into a shop and interviewed the owner who happened to do a client's hair on a day when she was not hanging out with friends at the local spa. In the future, I wish the media would be more straightforward about their ideological convictions and simply say up front something to the effect that they believe that the extremely wealthy class has more right to wealth due to the virtue emanating from their noble birth.

In the end, the budget is a step in the right direction, but oh, what a small and timid step.

7 comments:

PENolan said...

Reading about the military line, my mind snapped back to football teams in high school getting all the money as opposed to the debaters, theatre, literary magazine, etc. Same mentality.

The Rambling Taoist said...

Great analysis! I wholeheartedly agree that it's a very, very timid step in the right direction.

The Intellectual Redneck said...

Taxing the rich at 100% won't pay for Obama's budget. The Wall Street Journal has reported that taxing the rich at 100% won't pay for Obama's budget. Barack Obama promised not to raise taxes on anyone making under $250,000 per year. Where is he going to get the money? The numbers indicate Obama will need to take 100% of the income of everyone making over $75,000.

Karlo said...

He'll get the money from the same place Bush got his money for his budgets--from future generations and future taxes. That said, Obama's decisions are more justifiable. Bush, after all, drove up gargantuan deficits that were completely unnecessary. Worse yet, the money wasn't even used for anything productive. It went to pay military contractor, corrupt contractors who gave money to his campaign, and to the wealthy so that they could buy an extra yacht. There's an argument that a stimulus is needed now just to keep the economy from getting even worse. Of course, military spending will have to be cut. I personally don't want a superpower military after we've become a minor economy and have masses of people protesting on the streets. I'd much rather have a working economy without the ability to attack some goatherders on some mountain on the other side of the planet. But I agree with you that the numbers don't sound realistic. I have no idea what the outcome will be. The current morass is beyond anything I've experienced.

libhom said...

Single payer healthcare, e.g., HR676 would save money while providing real healthcare for all. How? It would get the insurance companies and HMOs out of healthcare.

Karlo said...

From what I've read, HR676 sounds like a huge improvement that would save a lot of money. At this, though, I'm for socialized medicine. Hospitals and pharmacies simply charge too much. The government could train doctors, produce medicine, and run hospitals and do everything more efficiently and at least as well as its being done now. But given the choice between HR676 and our current system, I'd definitely take the former.

ddjango said...

Great analysis, Karlo . . .

You make one point, or at least imply it, that a fundamental paradigm shift must occur before fiscalism produces the need results in terms of societal remediation.

I have no confidence that this proposed budget will survive the knives of lobbyists and their minions in Congress to be anything but a bloody, dissected corpse with several missing body parts.

The rich and powerful will noit go quietly - at least without sucking a great deal more from our pockets and souls.

Peace.