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The 14% solution, and all that jazz.

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The 14% solution, and all that jazz

A dear friend in Florida once tried to console me of my despairing over the dismal future of our constitutional democratic republic with, "The strength of America is that we let everyone vote, which is also its weakness." It was an updated version of Jefferson's "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or, have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him?"


It does take two to tango.

Democrats working with Republicans suggests some computerized confection of one of the funniest (to me) Seinfeld episodes with Dancing with the Stars. To make this analogy work you've got to have seen at least one episode of DWTS, to understand the format, and then you must take a look at It's Elaine Benes' "dance."

Elaine Benes in this analogy is one of the stars, and her partner will be named Bobby. Tom Bergeron, the host of the show announces, "And now we turn to Elaine and Bobby, who will be dancing the tango." Either because Elaine does not know the steps, or because she refuses to follow the script is exactly what the Republicans have been doing, ever since the Obama inaugural.

But the problem isn't limited to Republicans in the US House and Senate. Much of the fix we're in -- and we're in one hellova fix -- can be traced directly to our neighbors, to our relatives, and to those with whom we also associate. Because, as my friend in Florida said, they also vote. If enough of them vote Republican, the Republican scheme is what we're going to get. Which is terrifying to me, because I vividly recall a terse segment of a passing conversation I tried to have about a month ago with one of my neighbors. It came to a screeching halt when she quite sincerely told me she thought "Sara Palin was neat." (Her words verbatim.) I say, came to a screeching halt because, when I tried to expand the conversation, she immediately flipped to something less demanding; much, much less demanding.

To only myself, I thereupon flipped her off with the commitment to nevermore have anything to do with her. I mean, like, how do you have an informed, intelligent discussion when the other party is either absent, or refuses? But that's the social-political dilemma we're stuck with.

President Obama just last week released his $3.8 trillion federal budget proposal for 2101-2011. Granted, that's a lot of money. And granted as well, the difference between federal government revenues and the proposed outgo is a $1.6 trillion deficit that's also a lot of money, more in fact than at any prior time in the country's history. Furthermore, regardless that Vice President Cheney exclaimed "Reagan proved, deficits don't matter," and how the GOP controlled legislature voted, they do matter. Continued unchanged they will culminate in a bankrupt country. That's the ultimate definition of "unsustainable."

It has been impossible to not hear the howls: "Government spending is out of control!" And, pick one or both of the following: "Obama / The Democratic policy is to spend, spend, spend!" And always is/are attached: "The government needs to learn to spend within its means." And/or, "We need to [dramatically] cut government spending!"

Okay, okay . . . I've had it. Enough has become way, way too much from folks who know way, way too little about what they're saying and what they're talking about. By "what they're saying" I mean the implications inherent in what they're saying.

Let's begin with basic civics; a subject that it's manifestly evident few have adequate knowledge of. A first question: What two components does the federal budget consist of?

The answer to the above is "discretionary" and "non-discretionary" spending. Discretionary spending is that component that can be tampered with. Non-discretionary, also called "mandatory," is that which by either contract or law is beyond any president's and/or legislative body's ability to do anything about. Most presidents and legislators also include within the non-discretionary component defense spending, which gets lopped in with the non-discretionary as "non-discretionary and defense." While I'm prone to quibble over the proposition that military spending should also be on the discretionary side of the ledger, I'm also adamant that defense spending is an essential expenditure to any nation hoping to retain international integrity, and that, as we are who we are, the sum of its parts is extraordinary.

Question 2: Regardless that a large portion, by actual and social contract, truly is non-discretionary, for just a moment, not including 100% of the defense spending, can you provide just three examples of components of the non-discretionary expenditures?

Interest on the national debt is one. Social Security benefits to those currently receiving Social Security is another. So is Medicare, to those on Medicare. Medicaid payments to the states is yet one more. The latter three are referred to as "entitlements."

Because the very second there was some indication that the US might default on a debt-service payment the entire world's economy would collapse, and with it any pretense to civilization. Genuine chaos would reign. We are not going to default. And by contract and by law, however there exists no legal obligation to increase the amount of Social Security payments to those currently receiving them, there does exist a contractual relationship between the recipients and the federal government that cannot be dismissed. Same thing for Medicare. And pretty much the same thing goes for the federal government's Medicaid payments to the states. Additionally, I said earlier that part of the defense budget is by actual and social contract non-discretionary. By that I'm referring to the benefits, medical and otherwise, that are owed to veterans.

While there are additional components on the non-discretionary side, let's lump them into the non-discretionary component of this discussion so that I can ask Question 3: What is the percentage of the federal budget that is non-discretionary?

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."
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