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 the 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?