Impeachment Case


I don’t think he was intending to build the case for impeachment.

This week, Rudolph Penner and Robert Reischauer, both former directors of the Congressional Budget Office, briefed the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform about the challenges they’ll face in finding ways to cut the federal budget deficit to a sustainable level.

But as I read Scot Lehigh’s column in today’s Boston Globe about our debt crisis and the need for new taxes – no matter what – to aid in recovery, it seemed pretty clear – President Obama’s leadership has been grossly irresponsible.

“First, don’t waste time looking for silver bullets or new approaches that hold out the promise of painless sacrifice,’’ Reischauer said. “There are none to be found.’’

Lehigh’s column outlines how devastatingly difficult it’s going to be to overcome political realities in facing the pending emergency.

“The magnitude of the required adjustments is so large that spending cuts will have to affect programs we all care about and benefit from, and revenue increases will have to come from a wide swath of Americans,’’ said Reischauer, who considers himself a fiscal conservative with liberal values. “In other words, raising taxes on the rich or corporations, closing tax loopholes, eliminating wasteful or low-priority programs, and prohibiting earmarks simply won’t be enough.’’

It’s pretty scary.

Under a cuts-only approach, Social Security recipients would see their cost-of-living adjustments reduced. Medicare premiums would rise, as would the public pension retirement age. The Pentagon would have almost no money for new arms systems or for Afghanistan-scale military operations. All other spending would have to be lowered as a share of GDP.

If we simply tax our way out of the problem, Penner said, the total federal tax burden would increase by 50 percent by 2040.

The cost of our crushing social programs is unsustainable, argue the two men. Cutting them to hell – along with military spending – can’t save us. Huge new taxes are required as well.

Assuming income tax rates rose in tandem until the top rate took half of an upper earner’s income, we’d also need a value-added tax that ramped up to 7.7 percent by that date. Further, Social Security and Medicare taxes would also have to rise.

A fiscal conservative, Penner said he’d like to keep tax increases to a minimum, but concluded: “Some combination of tax increases and spending cuts will be necessary as a practical matter.’’

That’s not the worst of it. Here’s where it gets really bad – the two men build the case for our fiscal disaster with no mention of the financial hell that the health care takeover will bring.

That reality will require both Democrats and Republicans to compromise. Further, President Obama will have to acknowledge openly that we can’t solve the deficit problem just by raising taxes on those with incomes over $250,000.

That’s a daunting task in this political climate. It will demand a far-sightedness and fortitude that’s hard to spot right now, either in Washington or in a country that’s grown accustomed to a fiscal free lunch.

The Obama approach, despite pretending that health reform would add nothing to the deficit, is to create the burden first and find a way to pay for it later.

And yet, act we must. The only question, really, is whether we do it at a time of our own choosing or wait until a crisis forces action upon us.

At a time when the existing social programs will face dramatic cuts plus tax increases in order for the nation to survive financially, the president has installed a new, and bigger, social program. Does this fiscal irresponsibility not rise to the level of an impeachable offense?

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