WASHINGTON (Dec. 6) — Early drafts of the report by the president’s debt-reduction commission contained some radical proposals to stem the tide of red ink in the federal government.
The so-called Simpson-Bowles group heard suggestions at the beginning of its seven-month study that relied on questionable ethics and misleading the public to reduce deficits.
“We should stop saying over and over that we’re leaving this tremendous financial obligation to our children and our grandchildren,” said co-chair Alan Simpson in one hearing. “If we stop mentioning it so much, maybe they won’t notice. They’re very young and distracted at that age, you know.”
Simpson floated the idea that children be bombarded from an early age with the notion that it is they who owe their parents a debt, not the other way around. When they grow up, the kids will be more than eager to have 70% of their income taxed just to pay interest to the Chinese holders of U.S. treasury bonds.
One of the former Wyoming senator’s aides detailed how the deception might be played out.
“As one example, we could tell them for every new level they achieve during a video game, they’d have the opportunity to earn credit toward a valuable prize,” explained the assistant. “This credit is earned performing piecework on electronics and appliances that need assembly. The factories of Shanghai will ship components to the U.S. and kids will learn early to work for virtually nothing to pay for their parents’ profligacy.”
The estimated $800 trillion this country will owe to China by 2030 could be chipped away five cents at a time until it is completely paid off around the time the Earth plunges into the sun, the aide predicted.
Social security and Medicare reductions have always been considered the “third rail” in American politics, with any officeholder who proposed such a thing likely to face a political death. But substantial reductions could be accomplished if such monthly entitlements were made by placing the elderly’s payments on the tracks of urban subway and light-rail transportation systems.
“Seal off one station and only let people over 65 come in,” one source suggested. “Then, just throw their cash out onto the tracks and let them collect as much as they can. Some will end up being able to afford basic health care, some will be crushed by trains, some will be electrocuted by the third rail. But the pool of recipients will be reduced, and money will be saved.”
“Most of them don’t understand direct deposit anyway,” he added.
Defense spending could be slashed by up to 25% if the Army stopped offering up its troops to appear in a mass martial arts pit stop on NBC’s hit reality show The Amazing Race, like happened in last year’s season finale. Over 300 troops stationed in South Korea spent an entire day filming a stunt in which Race contestants dodged among soldiers’ flying fists as they practiced their jiu jitsu moves for the cameras.
“Meanwhile, 20 miles down the road, just over the DMZ, Kim Il Jung is preparing a massive assault on the south,” said Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff under President Clinton. “More innovative thinking about funding military operations might suggest we disband that battalion, take about 10% of its cost and pay NBC executives to include Kim and his son as a team on next season’s show.”
Other ideas that didn’t make the final cut were equally intriguing. The final draft released last week included a provision to cut the federal work force by 10%, but the original suggestion was to have all the workers stay on the payroll but simply do 10% less work. Commission member Andy Stern, a former labor union president, scuttled that idea as impractical, since in many cases it was impossible for government employees to do less work than they were already doing.
“The workforce is already being stretched to its capacity when it comes to loafing and goofing off,” Stern told fellow commissioners. “To ask them to do more would be asking them to take on an unfair burden.”
Alice Rivlin of the Brookings Institution wanted to “team up” some of the recommendations into joint efforts at cost reduction. A decrease in farm subsidies and in student loans could be combined into one program that trained college applicants to instead become migrant farmworkers.
“Do we really need so many students studying music and English?” she asked in one early session. “What if we could offer a major in Agriculture Collection with double minors in Bending Over and Getting Sweaty? Students could get training in the field, so to speak, and be ready to hire full-time upon graduation.”
In the end, few of these innovative proposals were adopted by the commission. Members admitted in their report that additional hard choices would have to be made by the next commission, scheduled to start work after the first of the year before its recommendations are completely ignored toward the end of 2011.
“Eventually, someone is going to have to admit we have to deal with the 800-pound gorilla in the room, which is that we are being held prisoner to our own selfish interests and our desire to spend incessantly,” said Bowles. “Hey, maybe we could get the gorilla to be the one to tell people they’re losing the home mortgage interest deduction. They might take it better when it’s coming from a giant ape. I’m going to write that one down. Where’s the suggestion box?”