Jim Crawford: U.S. needs better planning

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 5, 2023

Yes, it is certainly good that the wholly artificial debt ceiling crisis was resolved by the compromises of President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy. 

And it is good that the outcome cuts future spending by an estimated $1.5 T over the next decade. But we need clearer heads and better thinking going forward to manage our debt and our needs as a nation.

First and foremost, the endless Republican pronouncement that revenue is not the problem, spending is the problem, needs to be filed away in the history of false claims.

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Republicans cut corporate tax revenues in 2017 without replacing the lost revenues, directly resulting in an increase in the deficit. That kind of thinking, ignoring the facts and the outcomes, will never allow responsible budgeting to happen.

Once that obstacle is out of the way the nation needs to plan forward, anticipating future social changes and raising whatever revenue is needed while eliminating programs that no longer are necessary. 

We all know that, in the foreseeable future, the costs of healthcare are going to increase as a budget line item. Social Security needs additional funding, and Medicaid needs both funding and new formulas for state participation funding. CHIP and the ACA need additional funding as our society ages and costs increase. 

Veterans’ benefits must be protected, and the costs of modernizing our infrastructure while recently addressed by bi-partisan legislation may require additional funding to modernize our harbors, airports and water purification systems nationwide.

In addition to continuing support for these ongoing priorities, we need to continue to prioritize the energy revolution. We will need more electrical grid power, requiring new power plants fed by solar, hydro, wind, natural gas and even nuclear power. Coal will remain an important export for decades but is already winding down as an element of the national power grid.

Our cities will require federal investment as our society changes, where working from home diminishes the need for business hubs dominating our downtowns. There will be a significant cost in converting city structures from office space to housing, schools, parks and entertainment venues. While much of this can be funded by private sources, a national plan should stimulate the overall conversion process.

In addition, our planet remains a dangerous place with violent nations desperate migration patterns, and rising sea levels threatening our coastal communities. We cannot avoid the costs of national defense, emergency response funding and protecting our sea-exposure cities.

We simply cannot fund these needs without the additional revenue needed. There are certainly federal programs that can be reduced, cut, or eliminated, but that alone will not generate the monies necessary for the size and scope of the projects that lie ahead in the coming decades. Simply cutting federal discretionary spending, which amounts to only about 15% of the federal budget, excluding discretionary military spending, will never be enough to balance the federal budget.

Finally, our federal deficit growth over the last two decades is not solely a by-product of excessive spending. In fact, the principal elements of the debt are wars of choice, a pandemic, a banking-driven recession and a Republican corporate tax cut.

As a nation, we need to stop fighting the budget arguments of the past and resolve to address our future needs by recognizing a combination of additional revenue and targeted spending cuts to ensure our future.

The silliness of the debt ceiling crisis is little more than a continuing distraction from a budget crisis that will require more objective thinking and thoughtful planning.

Let’s hope our elected officials can meet the challenges we face.

Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.