News From Terre Haute, Indiana


January 13, 2013

READERS’ FORUM: Jan. 13, 2013


It’s time to lasso those sacred cows

My lone New Year’s resolution has already been fulfilled by virtue of having disposed of a certain pair of blended-fabric stockings, an act that, sadly and grotesquely, was long overdue. Anyone who has ever been kind enough to show concern for my well-being should be pleased to learn of this feeble accomplishment, if only because aforementioned feat required a certain degree of emotional detachment I am unaccustomed to achieving. And now, I hear that politicians in Washington, D.C., have moved a half a click off of long-held positions of intransigence.

First comes a new plateau amid the wonders of modern housekeeping. Then, at the very edge of the “fiscal cliff,” Congress brakes abruptly and spins sideways, thus finally managing to avoid going all Thelma and Louise on us. We have surprised ourselves! It is a bright new world indeed.

Thus far, only half of the great debt compromise has been lassoed; the remainder is dangling by a thread. Liberals and conservatives alike gave up some long-held ground on issues of taxation. Now comes the hard part. Where to cut spending and by how much? Which strings to trim? What ballast to shed?

It is said that Social Security is the third rail of politics. There is a second third rail in politics. There are other third rails as well. These supplementary third rails are never discussed because everyone is afraid to even approach them.

The second third rail of politics is a package of entitlements lumped loosely together under a banner known as “The Farm Bill.” The Farm Bill is untouchable as a black hole. Even mere thoughts of curtailing or trimming its benefits are immediately sucked in by the sheer gravity of its immense political mass never to be envisioned again.

I forgot what I was saying. My thoughts escape me.

You see!?! The black hole got them.

The difference between those recurring expenditures that have been labeled as entitlements and those that have not been so labeled is largely a matter of a more effective marketing campaign by conservatives (especially the wealthy). That needs to change.

And there are other entitlements deemed to be equally too dangerous to approach.  Perhaps the most lethal of these is tax abatements and other subsidies to business. In free markets, there would be no tax abatements. Abatements provide unfair advantages to one company over another, to the consternation of competition and the detriment of other taxpayers. It is a system of briberies and imbalances and a burden to consumers.

Abatements and their ilk? Snip. Snip.

Also, phase out depreciations.

Then scuttle offshore tax havens.

Although we are taught not to think of these things as entitlements, they fit the description. They are specters of entitlement as tangible as any though no less politically charged than other “third rails.”

So, let us take this once in a lifetime opportunity to look beyond decimating Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment benefits or diluting the authority of the EPA, diminishing the power of the IRS or whitewashing OSHA and the FDA to see where else we might make spending cuts, expedite efficiencies or find more savings to help balance the budget.

Let us hope the compromising has begun. Right now, at first. Congress seems to be proceeding by baby steps. That is no reason not to celebrate. Once they get their feet under them and begin toddling about in earnest, we shall find ourselves scrambling to put locks on all the cupboards and to secure the crayons, boot polish and school funding in high places beyond their reach.

We didn’t get into this fiscal mess overnight, and it is going to take awhile to work our way back out of it. On the ledges before us are spread fine instruments from which to choose. We can make whatever changes we so desire. We can start with the socks and work our way up.

Whether spotted or monochrome, sacred cows beware. Cometh now the knifeman.  May his blades be twofold and overlapping, dispassionate and compromising, and in his cuts may goodwill and reason prevail.

— Clay Wilkinson

Terre Haute

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