You hate to see a grown legislator cry

It’s not a pleasant sight, but we should get used to it because it’s not over: across the country, and soon in Washington, D.C., elected representatives are finally struggling with making actual budget cuts.

Here in Texas we face the same problem as everyone else: not enough money to pay for everything we want.  Fact is, we’re $23 billion short of what we’d need to fund the last budget with no increases in anything—or in other words, we need to cut the last budget by more than 12%—and the Texas Constitution doesn’t permit deficit spending.  So our legislature is in the midst of that “adult conversation” we’ve heard so much about, making tough decisions about what to keep and what to cut.

No one’s really in favor of cutting state funding of public education by $8 billion (or in favor of what Tom the Dancing Bug down there is imagining), or short-sheeting projected growth in Medicaid caseloads by $4 billion, or running TDB onbombing schoolsthe risk of nursing homes closing because of the proposed cut in Medicaid reimbursement rates.  But all of that’s in the budget approved yesterday by the state House of Representatives, and that’s after getting the governor to agree to use $3.1 billion dollars from the savings account.

Republican leaders in the Texas House, who are still talking about finding some “non-tax revenue” source to ease the cuts, passed this budget because they believe the voters made it clear in November that they’re opposed to raising any taxes, and so far there’s been no groundswell of Texans begging to pay higher taxes to prevent these cuts…although there’s been plenty of complaints about what’s proposed to be cut.

Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, likened the situation to entering a burning house and finding schoolchildren in one room and elderly people in another.

“I finally figured out that I couldn’t save anybody in this fire,” Dutton said, asking why lawmakers chose not to put out the fire by addressing the state’s underlying fiscal problems.

The same kind of tough decisions need to be made in Washington, and just like in Texas there’s no way to make real change without pain—a lot if it.  Most of the federal budget is tied up in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and defense spending.  The deficit commission concluded that everything has to be on the table for discussion, and a small group of senators has been negotiating quietly to come up with a plan.

Tomorrow, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin releases his plan, and I hope that kicks off some serious discussion about our options for resolving the government’s financial problem.  I hope, but frankly I’m not overly optimistic about Congress solving the problem: you see, tomorrow another group of worthies meets at the White House to see if they can keep the government from shutting down on Friday, because Congress has repeatedly failed in its responsibility to pass a budget for the year that started October 1 of LAST YEAR!

C’mon, guys; cut the crap and get serious, wouldya?

8 thoughts on “You hate to see a grown legislator cry

  1. Hey Pat, great article. You’re right, we’re going to suffer a little pain. But the way I figure it is, we can suffer a little now, or push it down the road again, and really suffer when the bill comes due.


    1. Thanks, Mike…I wish it would only be a little pain, but I expect it’ll only get worse the longer it’s put off. Pull the damn Band-Aid already 😉

  2. I agree that we need to address the fiscal issues now rather than putting them off. I disagree, however, with the “generic fiscal pain” narrative. As long as there is waste in spending (viewed from an objective economic-societal standard and not from either party’s “sacred cows” perspective), the cuts are not painful, but necessary. I know that both Mike and Pat share the view that wasteful spending is wrong, but it is time to change the national, state and local narrative and call cuts in necessary programs as painful if they have to be done after the waste has been eliminated.

    1. Is there an objective standard by which we can judge what is waste and what is not? And if there is, I would venture a guess that some of the cuts of wasteful spending, which might be judged as necessary, will still be painful to some: slicing off billions from the state’s spending on public education means many thousands of teachers will be on the street, which will be painful to those teachers (and to tens of thousands of their students) even though we might be saving the money now paid to thousands of bad teachers who deserve to be fired.

      If we could identify and eliminate all of the waste and fraud and abuse and theft in the national budget, we’d still spend more than we take in every year under the current setup. Absent some magical increase in national income, we’ve got to cut expenses…or go broke.

    1. I, too, think it will be valuable to kick off a serious discussion of the options, and I’ll write about it once I have a chance to noodle it over some more.

  3. I commend Congressman Ryan for setting forth the framework. There will be a worthwhile debate if we discuss not only the proposals, but also the underlying assumption for some of those proposals.

    For example, there is a proposal to increase savings by eliminating taxes on interest, capital gains, etc. That proposal assumes that these taxes have discouraged or prevented individuals or families from saving money. Is that true? What evidence is there for that assumption? It may be true, but if we adopt a proposal based upon an assumption, we should test the assumption. The assumption may be correct, but we should not just concede that point. This is no different than when Pat tested my assumption that are objective crietria to evaluate where to cut.

    1. I think we both agree with the argument made by the deficit commission, that a solution to the government’s sad state of economic affairs requires that everything is fair game for discussion: the proposals, the assumptions underlying the proposals, the philosophies underlying the assumptions. If the government doesn’t take in more it must spend less to remain solvent, and we’ll have to have an honest reconsideration of a lot of assumptions about what we want government to do. Nothing can be off limits to that discussion.

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