COMMENTARY | Super. The word alone drums up thoughts of the extraordinary. Let's take Superman: He was faster than a speeding bullet and could leap tall buildings in a single bound -- all because he was super! It is only fitting that Congress established a Super Committee to fix America's economic woes.
Yes, this group is filled with men like John Kerry, who provided hours of support during the 2004 presidential campaign to mothers with restless babies who couldn't sleep. But the group of six Republicans and six Democrats is charged with finding $1.2 - $1.5 trillion of deficit cuts over the next decade. Here are three areas where significant savings could be found:
Defense Spending, or Defense Wasting
According to CNBC, a Senate panel earlier this month froze defense spending at $513 billion for the next fiscal year. Amazingly, that figure does not include the other $118 billion required to fund ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Americans are being warned that social programs must be reformed at their expense, the Pentagon is spoiled rotten. Congress was able to curtail $1.6 billion in funding for Afghan security forces at the Pentagon's request, making the Pentagon the only agency in government that asks for fewer funds.
America's military budget is a reflection of our paranoia. Foreign Policy in Focus estimates America spends $250 billion to maintain global military bases. Comically, we spend $ 20.2 billion in air conditioning for Iraq and Afghanistan, which is more than NASA's budget, according to NPR. Think about the absurdity of that statistic. And what do we get for this massive bill? The foreign policy of a bygone era. The Department of Defense shows there are 54,000 American servicemen in Germany, a country whose unemployment rate of 6.9 percent is 2.2 percentage points below America's 9.1 percent, according to Bloomberg.com.
Within 10 years, America should gradually close half its bases around the world, which would save at least $125 billion. This is without the additional savings that would come from the drawdown in troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The impact on America's military superiority would be minimal as weapons programs and expenditures on the fighting force wouldn't be decreased.
Social Security, The One Thing Worth Saving
Social Security is simple in theory, but complicated in practice. There are those who claim the program is funded, and those who claim it is bankrupting the country. Lost in the debate is fact that both groups are right. Social Security is funded, but the government's rape of the program's trust fund also defunds the program. The fact is, Social Security is here to stay. According to the Social Security Administration, the program represents 41 percent of the income of the elderly. With 50 percent of the workforce having no pensions, abolishing the program would wreak havoc on Americans' quality of life.
Bush Jr. tried to reform Social Security by privatizing it and failed miserably at the task. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin showed vitriol in proposing a reform, but was almost run out of the House chamber for the suggestion. The problem with privatizing Social Security is that it gives the "people" too much power. In a nation where the founding fathers didn't even trust us to choose our president, or senators for that matter, we sometimes give ourselves too much credit.
The country is riddled with credit card debt, bad mortgages, and reality television; allowing the populace to determine the fate of the world's largest social program may not turn out so well. In addition, if the stock market falters as it did in 2007, workers will be left to continually extend their working lives. In a country that works more and vacations less than its industrialized counterparts, this seems unappealing.
The answer to remedying Social Security is quite simple; the current $ 106,800 tax cap must be raised or modified. According to The Oregonian, Oregon Rep. Peter Defazio proposed forcing those who make over $250,000 a year to pay the tax on their full income. This alone would add $6.5 trillion to the trust fund over the next 75 years and maintain 100 percent of the benefits.
Unemployment Benefits Run Rampant
While Social Security is a safety net that "must be protected," unemployment is one that "can't" be. Investopedia points out that in 2010 over $320 billion in unemployment benefits were doled out, mostly because unemployment insurance is given for 99 weeks. Nearly two years of government money is draining the coffers, creating a stagnant economic climate as companies are weary to add more workers to their staffs. Unemployment should also not be given to seasonal workers who are off for a few months but know they will be back at work, ultimately making them employed. It is heart-wrenching to think of those out of work and searching, but the amount of time unemployment is given must be reduced to one year.
Indeed, these are only a few suggestions in a litany of cuts that need to be made by the Super Committee. America has some soul searching to do. We must figure out which programs are essential to our society and which will hurt the least when gone. It seems Superman's challenges pale in comparison to the obstacles faced by this Super Committee.