This opinion piece, I'll admit, will likely be considered by some to be a little bit unfair to Sen. John Thune.
I've noticed that a lot of recent columns I've written lately tend to be critical of him.
I can't help it. I just think that he tends to be, well, a bit unrealistic with some of his proposals.
I also know that a good number of South Dakotans – who knows, maybe even a majority of them — love his ideas. They, well, sound so good. Even if they won't work.
The latest big announcement from Thune, who gracefully is just strolling along, unopposed in the upcoming November election, came last week. He introduced legislation on July 27 that he claims will "begin to tackle the nation's ballooning $13 trillion debt by reforming the budget process and cutting federal spending and borrowing."
His bill will accomplish this, if approved, he says, by eliminating wasteful spending and enacting discretionary spending caps, putting a stop to all stimulus spending by the end of September (yes, next month), improving PAYGO and trust fund accounting, requiring a binding joint budget resolution, establishing a biennial budgeting timeline, creating a legislative line-item veto, and forming a new Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.
It sounds so good, doesn't it? And, frankly, some of it has a familiar ring to it. PAYGO has been kicked around a long time; the idea of a line-item veto, if memory serves, was approved by Congress and put to use during the Reagan years, and used by President Bill Clinton until it was ruled, by the Supreme Court, to be unconstitutional.
Oh well. Let's not let a little thing like the Supreme Court stop us. A line item veto sounds so good.
So does stopping all of that darned stimulus spending, which surely has to be the root of all of our nation's economic woes right now. Except that, we can't help but think that economically, our nation would actually be in a lot worse shape right now without the stimulus funds.
Mainstream economists overwhelmingly argued back in February 2009 that, to combat the recession, the federal government should loosen its purse strings temporarily to spur demand, with a mix of assistance to the unemployed, aid to strapped state and local governments, tax cuts, spending on infrastructure, and other measures.
So it did. By design, this package added to the deficit. Since then, policymakers have enacted several smaller measures to spur recovery and aid the unemployed. It is estimated that the combination of stimulus spending and these other measures account for $1.1 trillion in deficits over the 2009-2019 period (including the associated debt service). Their effects are highly concentrated in 2009 through 2011 and fade thereafter, delivering a boost to the economy during its most vulnerable period, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Glaringly absent from Thune's proposed legislation is any mention of taxes, specifically, the Bush tax cuts which are set to expire soon. We are guessing Thune will want to see them continue.
Here's the problem which you won't learn about if all you listen to are Tea Party members, Glenn Beck, or, for that matter, probably any politician that's up for re-election in 2010.
The tax cuts are part of the reason we're in the mess we're in. Seriously.
Just two policies dating from the Bush Administration – tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – accounted for over $500 billion of the deficit in 2009 and will account for almost $7 trillion in deficits in 2009 through 2019, including the associated debt-service costs, according to the CBO.
These impacts easily dwarf the stimulus and financial rescues. Furthermore, unlike those temporary costs, these inherited policies (especially the tax cuts) do not fade away as the economy recovers.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the Bush tax cuts, if extended, will increase the deficit another $3.4 trillion. Ouch.
Just last week, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan noted that tax cuts shouldn't be extended if Congress is unwilling to pay for them somehow.
"Look, I'm very much in favor of tax cuts, but not with borrowed money. And the problem that we've gotten into in recent years is spending programs with borrowed money, tax cuts with borrowed money, and at the end of the day, that proves disastrous," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "And my view is I don't think we can play subtle policy here on it."
Some may argue that Thune is simply doing what he should be doing. He's grown in power among Republicans in the U.S. Senate, and he's simply espousing the GOP's philosophy and sounding good to conservatives not just in South Dakota but across the nation.
However, Thune is in a very unique position. It's an election year, and he doesn't have to worry about a campaign. He's unopposed; he's got a lock on another six years in the Senate.
He can be honest with us.
No politician, of any party, during a election year, is going to be fully truthful with voters. That's why you're hearing talk about extending the Bush tax cuts (but never hearing how they will only cripple our economy further).
No doubt we'll hear a lot of other things that really sound good, but actually will prove to be very bad policy for our nation.
If Thune wants to be perceived as more than just a guy whose known for his willingness to carry the water for the GOP, he needs to start being more honest and realistic with his constituents, and frankly, with the nation.
He should be playing a major role in finding solutions to our nation's economic mess. He can tout his recent legislation all he wants, but this is what's troubling. He knows it won't work.
We know he's smart enough to put together a bill that attacks the deficit in a realistic, honest way. He's capable, and he has another six-year term, beginning in January 2011, to accomplish that goal.