A work­able bud­get plan

Rep. Scott Rigell of­fers a se­quester al­ter­na­tive that makes sense.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

SE­QUES­TRA­TION CON­TIN­UES to im­pede na­tional gov­er­nance. The lat­est ex­am­ple: Pres­i­dent Obama’s veto of a $612 bil­lion na­tional de­fense au­tho­riza­tion mea­sure. Since de­fense au­tho­riza­tion bills set na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy and fu­ture plans for pay­ing and equip­ping the armed forces, pres­i­dents rarely veto them. And, in the in­ter­ests of cer­tainty for Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary, at a time of com­plex in­ter­na­tional threats, Mr. Obama should not have ve­toed this one. Se­ques­tra­tion gave him a rea­son, or an ex­cuse, to do so, how­ever, since Congress sought to pay for the bill by break­ing through se­ques­tra­tion bud­get caps for the mil­i­tary, but not do­mes­tic pri­or­i­ties. “Ir­re­spon­si­ble,” Mr. Obama said.

Mean­while, the Ryan-Mur­ray spend­ing plan, which re­laxed those bud­get caps for both de­fense and non-de­fense spend­ing, for two years, paid for by a patch­work of bud­getary off­sets, ex­pires Dec. 11. There­after, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment faces an abrupt re­turn to lower bud­get caps un­less the po­lar­ized Congress comes up with an­other short­term ex­ten­sion such as the one it en­acted Sept. 30. Whether even that mod­est fix can hap­pen amid in­tra-GOP fight­ing, no one knows. Ide­ally, Repub­li­cans and Democrats would work on a long-term plan to lift se­ques­tra­tion for both mil­i­tary and do­mes­tic pro­grams, paid for with a mix of taxes and sav­ings — the lat­ter in­clud­ing en­ti­tle­ments, which are the true cause of the coun­try’s fis­cal predica­ment.

Any­one look­ing for ideas should read the bill Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) in­tro­duced Wed­nes­day. Mr. Rigell’s pro­posal would re­store 75 per­cent of the se­quester cuts, a to­tal of $765 bil­lion in re­stored spend­ing (over 10 years), di­vided evenly be­tween de­fense and do­mes­tic pri­or­i­ties, just as Pres­i­dent Obama wants. It would pay for $200 bil­lion of this through new rev­enues, achieved by elim­i­nat­ing tax breaks for up­per-in­come Amer­i­cans and ap­ply­ing the more ac­cu­rate “chained CPI” in­fla­tion ad­just­ment to the tax code — huge con­ces­sions to the Democrats from a mem­ber of the no-new-taxes party.

The vast ma­jor­ity of the re­main­ing sav­ings in Mr. Rigell’s plan come from en­ti­tle­ments, in­clud­ing a se­ries of Medi­care re­forms, many drawn from Mr. Obama’s past pro­pos­als, worth $455 bil­lion. He would ap­ply the chained CPI to So­cial Se­cu­rity, thus re­duc­ing fu­ture cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments, but with built-in pro­tec­tions for the poor­est ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Mr. Rigell un­for­tu­nately gives back about $25 bil­lion by re­peal­ing the med­i­cal de­vice tax, but other than that short­sighted at­tack on Oba­macare’s fund­ing, the bill is a re­mark­ably bal­anced, non-ide­o­log­i­cal ap­proach.

And, of course, it’s all too easy to see how it could be picked apart by the usual in­ter­est groups, dress­ing up their self­ish de­mands in the usual lofty rhetoric. What’s im­pres­sive about Mr. Rigell’s plan, how­ever, is how lit­tle sac­ri­fice it im­poses on the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple. In re­turn, the coun­try would get a gov­ern­ment with a more sus­tain­able fund­ing base; in­deed, we’d get a gov­ern­ment that is ca­pa­ble of gov­ern­ing, since it would have re­cov­ered financial lat­i­tude to meet chang­ing pub­lic needs.

The al­ter­na­tive is more zero-sum par­ti­san con­flicts — like the one that pro­duced Mr. Obama’s veto — with all that en­tails for the United States’ abil­ity to de­fend, and gov­ern, it­self.

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