Opinion: Rep. Connie Mack’s penny plan for spending cuts worth another look

Now that the national debt-ceiling deal is done — and liberals like me are unhappy and conservatives, deservedly, have more to cheer about — Thanksgiving 2011 will be about more than good turkey. This is the deadline for the so-called “super” congressional committee of six Democrats and six Republicans from the House and Senate to cut at least $1.2 trillion in the projected budget deficit for the next 10 years.  

I favor at least one-half of this $1.2 trillion to be funded by a combination of tax reform — closing tax loopholes — and increases in marginal tax rates of upper-income taxpayers (including me). 

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But if you are an anti-tax conservative who sincerely believes that you have to cut spending and not “feed the beast” with more revenues, then one approach on spending cuts for the supercommittee to consider is the simple and creative “Penny Plan” introduced by Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.). 

Mack’s bill, H.R. 1848, would cut one penny out of every dollar actually spent by the federal government from year to year for the next six years, from fiscal 2012 to 2017. Beginning in 2018, there would be a budget cap of 18 percent of GDP (the average federal revenue as a percentage of GDP over the past 30 years). And by 2019 America would finally have a balanced budget — that is, assuming revenues naturally increase from the current 14.8 percent of GDP to 18 percent of GDP by 2019, after which the budget would be in surplus.

There is an automatic spending-cut “trigger” under Mack’s plan — one he came up with well before the trigger used in the recently passed national debt-ceiling bill. If Congress failed to enact a budget implementing the 1-percent-actual-spending cut required under Mack’s measure, there would be automatic, across-the-board actual cuts in all federal programs to meet the 1 percent reduction, and that means all: in defense, Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, defense and national-security spending, everything.  

Mack’s plan might seem draconian to some. It would cut the accumulated budget deficits by an estimated $7.5 trillion over 10 years — more than three times the amount achieved by the debt-ceiling deal Congress approved last Tuesday.


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But it actually has a rather modest impact on reducing our total national debt. It won’t be until eight years from now that the budget will be in balance and the national debt starts getting paid down. 

We had $1 trillion in surplus — money in the bank — when Bill Clinton left office on Jan. 20, 2001, just eight years after he began his presidency inheriting a $300 billion deficit. Now we are heading toward a $15 trillion debt. How did this happen? Both parties are guilty. 

I am a liberal Democrat who believes that the national debt and annual deficits are the country’s greatest moral issues. We cannot continue to use credit cards to pay for wars, corporate jet write-offs and Social Security and Medicare — and leave it to our children, grandchildren and probably great-grandchildren to pay our bills. 

That is simply wrong. It is a moral stain on our generation if we leave this red-ink legacy for generations to come to deal with.  

Mack’s Penny Plan might be imbalanced, from my perspective, lacking in the revenue-raising component endorsed by the bipartisan Gang of Six and the Simpson-Bowles commission. I believe Republicans will have difficulty in the 2012 congressional and presidential elections defending the proposition that the national debt can be significantly paid down from budget cuts alone, or that the wealthier in our society shouldn’t pay more or at least stop taking advantage of tax loopholes to pay less. 

But since the “balanced” solution of both increased revenues and spending cuts is supported in virtually every poll by substantial majorities of all voters, including large numbers of Republicans, Democrats need to find a spending cut formula that they can live with. The Mack Penny Plan seems a good place to start — it is simple, it makes common sense, and with some adjustments protecting the poor and the unemployed, it could be seen as fair even to many of the most liberal Democrats.


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