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Mr. Nice Guy or Mr. Hard Nose?

Posted: Friday, Nov 8th, 2013

As anticipated, my column of Oct. 11 (“Reckless and Irresponsible”) provoked indignant responses from some of the Tea Party persuasion but also a range of reactions from my liberal friends. Some of them felt it was about time to “tell it like it is,” but a few felt it wasn’t in keeping with being a “nice guy” aiming for dialogue with those with whom I strongly disagree.

I don’t think the obsessions of the Tea Party wing in congress with “big government,” the short-term deficit and repealing Obamacare is irresponsible — it’s just badly wrong. But their threats of government shutdown and debt default to get their way ARE reckless and irresponsible and should be labeled as such. And I am hardly the only one who feels that way — Senator McCain called them “wacko-birds.”

Without these threats, we should be able to have a civil and constructive conversation about the federal debt, the size of government or Obamacare — provided we don’t ignore those annoying little things called facts. For example, the claim that “deficits have skyrocketed” under the Obama administration is not true. “In the 2014 fiscal year, which began at the start of this month, the federal deficit is expected to come in at just 3.4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That’s down from 10.1 per cent of G.D.P. in 2009, when the Great Recession was at its height. And next fiscal year, the deficit will fall even further, to 2.1 per cent of G.D.P.” (Source: Post by John Cassidy, New Yorker magazine). Nor is it true that the Obama administration has bloated the federal workforce. The ratio of federal employees to the total population is now lower than during the administrations of Bush 43, Clinton, Bush 41— and Reagan.

I don’t maintain for an instant that the long-term federal debt is not a serious problem that must be dealt with. A mixture of revenue increases and spending reductions — including entitlements as well as unnecessary military weapons systems and wasteful procurement procedures — must be reached. The FICA social security cap is currently $113,700. It should be raised. I oppose raising the full-benefit retirement age from 66 as well as cutting benefits for those who rely on social security for most of their income. But for others, myself included, a modest reduction in benefits is not inappropriate. The same thing applies to Medicare benefits. A “grand bargain” was within reach and could be achieved if rigid ideological positions are dropped, both by those for whom any revenue increase is “off the table” as well as by those who oppose any reform in Medicare and Social Security or any reduction whatsoever in military spending. But the debt is a long-term problem and mindless severe short-term cuts like the sequestration when unemployment is still a serious problem makes no sense. Unless we invest in education, research and infrastructure to keep the U.S. competitive over the long haul we will be in serious difficulty. So if being a “nice guy” means willingness to have civil discussions about long-term national goals, I’m all for it, but it doesn’t mean not calling out those who make reckless threats that can cause serious harm to our nation.

Dr. Ray Weymann, a retired astronomer, moved to Atascadero in 2003. His interests include public science education, math tutoring for students and civic engagement.

For the complete article see the 11-08-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-08-2013 paper.

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