Friday, July 29, 2011

A question of balance

Both Democrats and Republicans say they want a "balanced" approach to raising the debt ceiling.

By "balance," however, Democrats mean a combination of cuts and new revenues.

The Republicans, meanwhile, consider "balance" to mean a "balanced budget amendment" must be included in any increase in the debt ceiling.

The reason we are in this budget mess is that we started two wars and cut taxes at the same time.

On paper, or even on computer screens, having a balanced budget sounds reasonable.

In practice, though, it is ridiculous and potentially catastrophic for the country.

There are very, very, very few households in this country that live on a balanced budget. We have home loans, student loans, car loans, credit card debt, etc.

To claim that most Americans manage their lives by balancing their budgets each month is a complete falsehood. Without the ability to raise our personal debt ceilings, we would have far fewer homes or cars owned in America along with far fewer students in college.

Yes, most states have passed balanced budgets, but it has done nothing to mitigate the tremendous deficits many of these states, including Oregon, now face.

In fact, Oregon's balanced budget approach has left the state bereft of meaningful advances in higher education or new infrastructure to meet growing demand. In 2005, state appropriations comprised 36 percent of the University of Oregon's budget. Today, it is down to 7 percent.

We have far fewer highway patrol officers than 30 years ago even though the population has increased by a third. Our per capita income is shrinking, not rising.

Now multiply Oregon's problems 50 times and you can approximate what would happen in America if a balanced budget were required.

If we had a balanced budget provision during the Great Depression, we wouldn't have social security or any of the great legacies of the New Deal.

If we had to balance our books after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, victory against our enemies may not have occurred. We also would've lost the Cold War in the 1950s. We wouldn't have an interstate highway system and we wouldn't have landed on the moon. There would be no G.I. Bill. The list goes on and on.

Yet, we have Republicans in Oregon saying we need more money for higher education. We need to fix our roads, hire more cops, give more tax breaks to corporations, etc. Of course, we can't raise taxes for all these things, nor can we borrow money to do so. Instead, we pin all of our hopes and dreams on the lottery.

Consequently, Oregon, like many states with balanced budget requirements, finds itself in decline.

Is this what we want for America? I think not.

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