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 more than about good turkeys. 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).
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 super committee to consider is the simple and creative “Penny Plan” introduced by Rep. Connie Mack (R.-Fla.).
Mr. 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 FY 2012-FY 2017. Beginning in FY 2018, there would be a budget cap of 18% of GDP (the average federal revenue as a percentage of GDP over the past 30 years). And by FY 2019 America would finally have a balanced budget – that is, assuming revenues naturally increase from the current 14.8% of GDP to 18% of GDP by 2019, after which the budget would be in surplus.
There is an automatic spending cut “trigger” under Mr. 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 one-percent-actual-spending cut required under Mr. Mack’s measure, then there would be automatic, across-the-board actual cuts in all federal programs to meet the one percent reduction, and that means all: in defense, Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, defense and national security spending, everything.
Mr. Mack’s plan may seem draconian to some. It would cut the accumulated budget deficits by an estimated $7.5 trillion over ten years – more than three times the amount achieved by the debt ceiling deal congress approved last Tuesday.
But it actually has a rather modest impact on reducing our total national debt. It won’t be until 8 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 January 20, 2001, just eight years after he began his presidency inheriting a $300 billion deficit. Now we are heading towards 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, grand-children, and probably great grand-children 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.
Mr. Mack’s Penny Plan may 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 entitlement reform is supported in virtually ever 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.
Despite our philosophical differences, I am a great admirer of Rep. Mack. I respect his deeply felt conservative philosophy and values. Most of all I respect his ability to disagree agreeably.
In this time of crisis – and I believe our national debt is a genuine and historic crisis – we need members like Mr. Mack who know how to reach across the aisle, as I have seen him do many times, to find common solutions. The Mack Penny Plan deserves serious consideration – as serious as the man who proposed it.
Lanny Davis has served as a lobbyist representing the government of Honduras and the Honduran business council and in that capacity met with Rep. Mack, who was Ranking Member and then Chairman of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, on many occasions.
He is the principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which specializes in strategic crisis management. He served as President Clinton’s Special Counsel in 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2006-07. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). He can be found on Facebook and Twitter @LannyDavis.
His weekly op-eds appear Thursday on FoxNews.com and in The Hill, Huffington Post and the Jakarta Globe.
Lanny Davis is a regular weekly columnist for The Hill. In 1996-98, Davis served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton. He attended Yale Law School with Hillary Clinton in 1969-70 and has remained friends with her ever since. He is the author of the book, "Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crises in Business, Politics, and Life," (Simon & Schuster March 2013). Follow him on Twitter at @LannyDavis.