Mike Zucker
Guest columnist

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March 5, 2013
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Opinion: Festering sequester politics

Emerging from political sequestration on his way to a convention of conservative also-rans, former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is out there condemning President Obama for dealing with our nation's budget sequester. Romney told Fox News, he's "flying around the country and berating Republicans and blaming and pointing" instead of attempting to get Democrats and Republicans to work together. Yes, the president is talking directly to the American people, making the case for revenue inclusion in deals that will further reduce the national debt and prevent additional economic calamities. It's called leadership.

Romney's ridiculous charge that the president has not been trying to forge a bipartisan consensus is echoed elsewhere. House Speaker John Boehner wrongfully insists that the sequester was Obama's proposal and that the American people don't support trading spending cuts for higher taxes; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell erroneously states "One thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to."

It's phony rhetoric. After all, Obama was re-elected by a comfortable majority in a campaign largely based on a balanced approach to deficit reduction that employs both spending cuts and revenue increases. More voters picked Democratic candidates over Republicans nationally in both House or Representatives and Senate races. A mid-February Pew Poll told us that 76 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor that balanced approach. When the survey offered 19 federal spending categories for cutting, none received majority support.

Last month, after the president warned of dire economic hardships if the sequester was not overturned with a more sensible plan, Boehner countered with the false claim that the president had demanded the sequester and that Congress "reluctantly accepted" it.

There was no demand. Here's the sequester's history summarized. In November 2010, Georgia Republican Congressman Jack Kingston designed a plan that would trigger automatic spending cuts if pre-determined targets were exceeded. In July 2011 White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling proposed a similar plan in which a compulsory trigger would go into effect if there were no other agreement on tax increases and/or budget cuts at least equal to the debt ceiling increase by a future date. The idea was to induce Republicans and Democrats to commit to future negotiations by means of an unpalatable enforcement mechanism. Obama and Boehner agreed to Sperling's plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signed on, understanding that the plan was an enforcement tool, not a budget proposal.

On July 31, 2011, Obama reported that both congressional chambers' leaders had agreed on a default-avoiding formula, the Budget Control Act. Support from 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats assured House approval; after Senate passage, the president signed it into law with this comment: "Is this the deal I would have preferred? No. But this compromise ... gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year."

Clearly, it was the president who "reluctantly accepted" the deal.

Meanwhile, Boehner told CBS reporter Scott Pelley, "When you look at this final agreement ... I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I'm pretty happy."

Boehner and others often state that the president has no budget reduction plan. It's a blatant lie and should be repulsed whenever it's repeated by anyone, whether a political partisan or Fox News pundit. Obama's proposal is on the White House website. A combination of spending cuts in defense and health care and non-health care savings as well as a reduction in tax loopholes, it shaves the deficit by $1.5 trillion beyond the $2.5 trillion that's already been cut.

The Republicans summarily reject the president's plan because it includes revenue. Instead, they want to eliminate entitlements, so here are a few that should be on their "cut" list:

1. The entitlement allowing multinational companies to avoid paying U.S. taxes on overseas profits until they transfer them back home, or to move domestic profits to offshore havens that allow them to count as overseas earnings. Many companies leave profits in overseas tax havens, avoiding taxes indefinitely. A Congressional Research Service report indicates that these schemes cost the U. S. treasury $100 billion a year.

2. The entitlement allowing big oil companies to write off punitive damages related to oil spills.

3. The entitlement that allows yacht owners to consider their vessels second homes for interest deductibility.

Surely these revisions would serve the country better than wholesale cuts in education, or air travel safety, or health care. They would even help Congress exercise its Constitutional power to provide for the general welfare.

- Michael Zucker is a resident of South Lake Tahoe and a stockbroker with Regal Securities. The views expressed in this column are his alone and do not represent those of Regal.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Mar 5, 2013 06:51PM Published Mar 5, 2013 06:50PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.