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February 25, 2015     The Sun Newspaper
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February 25, 2015
 

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015 Trentom Sun Page 5 -Opinion iiiiiiiiiiiiii;iii;ilii ii;iiiii;iiiiiiiiiiiiiii;i;iiiiiiiiiiiii!iiiiiiiiiiiii ..,iiii ': ii  ii ii . ,' ,i; ,,  ii ,iliii!, "iiiiiiii!iiii!ii!iiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!iii!!!ii;i N   t: J!i: ,4!:,i:: $}: !ii!iii!il 00ii00ii i iii!ii!!!iiiiii!i!i!ii!!!iiiii!!!!!!!ii!iil i!ii!! ': !ii  ..................... iiiiii' '' iil '=: '!i !!il; .................... i i .................... ;ili!!ii::::=::::'=iiii:'%!;i( ' !!i:::'"':'%:'""::'iiii!iiiii;ii!ii; ,':::: ':i ii:i i ':'  ::, : '" ' ..........  i ! : iiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!iii!iiiiii!iiii!iiiiiiiiiiiiiiii i i l iiiiii''ii!i;:i"'iiiiiiiiiiiii iiiiiii  ill !?"iiiiiiii iiii .... iiiiiiiii iii i, i iii ii:: ':: ii iiii! ,, iiii!;iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!ii#iiiiiiiiiiiii:  i  !! : ii     ii  ,:: i i '  : Joe's Corner I don't understand it...I'm trying to slow this thing down by putting on the brakes, but. nothing's With the Budget, the President Calls the Shots By Lee H. Hamilton It may not be obvious from the news coverage, but a good bit of Congress's 2015 agenda just land- ed on Capitol Hill with a thul. I mean this literally. The federal budget that President Obama recently submitted runs to 2,000 pages. This is the most important government document produced each year, so its heft is more than physical. The budget is how we de- cide what share of this country's economic resources we should devote to government--and how we should spend them. It's where we set out our national priorities, sorting out how to allocate money among defense, the environment, education, medical research, food safety, public works... You get the idea. Which is why you saw the po- litical maneuvering begin the mo- ment it arrived. In a press con- ference after President Obama submitted his budget, House Speaker John Boehner dismissed it out of hand. "The president gave the American people a good laugh yesterday," he said. Every year, politicians play some varia- tion on this theme. I've lost count of the times I've heard a budget declared "dead on arrival." Yet here's what you need to re- member: Congress changes only a small portion of the budget. Well over half is mandated spend- ing--interest on the debt, entitle- ments, contractual obligations of the government. And even when it comes to the roughly 40 percent of the budget that is discretion- ary spending, Congress never rewrites it wholesale; in general, all but five or ten percent of the White House's spending blue- print will make it through intact. The President's budget, in other words, is never "dead on arrival." This is not to say that what Congress does will be unimport- ant. The debate from here on out will be specifically about taxing and spending priorities--about how much money should go to de- fense, or homeland security, or so- cial welfare--and more generally about who has the best ideas for addressing the country's needs. There will be times in upcom- ing months when it sounds as though our economy's health de- pends on what our lawmakers do. The budget, after all, is where the President and Congress can have an impact on the economy. I'm not persuaded, however, that it's as large as they'd have us be- lieve. For one thing, the Federal Reserve, through its control over the money supply, has its hands on an immensely important eco- nomic lever. So do the big banks, major corporations and, most im- portantly, millions of consumers. Still, Congress faces important questions. The deficit, which in past ears was the focus of furi- ous debate, holds less attention this year because we've made so much progress in reducing it. A few years ago, it amounted to al- most 10 percent of GDP; in 2014, it was 2.7 percent. On the other hand, the federal debt--what we owe to creditors who financed our accumulated annual deficits--is higher than it'been for genera- tions, and we're not dealing with the hard choices necessary to get it under control. In particular, this means finding ways to control entitlement spending in an aging society. We do not need to panic about our finances, but we can't afford to be complacent either. There will be voices in Congress over the next few months urging that we curb spending sharply. In a recovering economy that is still beset with income stagnation, I'd argue that slamming hard on the brakes would be a mistake, in- stead, we need to shift our spend- ing toward investment, focusing on areas that generate or under- pin economic growth: infrastruc- ture, research and development, education. Congress used to reign supreme in budget-making. George Wash- ington didn't even think it was his job to send a budget to Con- gress, and the president wasn't legally required to submit one un- til the budget act of 1921 codified the practice. Now, of course, the President has become the chief budget-maker, and the Congress reacts to--and largely:accts-- his proposals. The maneufering on Capitol Hill over the next few months will, indeed, nudge the country in one direction or anoth- er. But our basic course was al- ready set by the time those 2,000 pages hit lawmakers' desks. Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. Mike's Musings = Will Return Next Week After he was elected, but before he was sworn in to office, Bruce Rauner re- peatedly lambasted Gov. Pat Quinn and the legisla- tive Democrats for passing a "booby trap" budget that was about to blow up in the state's collective face. Rauner was absolutely right. Last year's budget was irresponsible and didn't deal with the reality of the expiring income tax hike. As a result, the state's bud- get is in a terribly deep hole right now. But did Gov. Rauner re- ally make all the "tough choices" necessary to get us out of that hole during his budget address as he prom- ised? Well, he sure proposed a lot of cuts. But he planted at least one major booby trap himself. As you may already know,. Rauner proposed a pension reform plan that he says would save at least $2.2 bil- lion in the first year. Set aside the fact that both Rep. Elaine Nekritz and Sen. Daniel Biss, who both worked very hrd on the legislature's pension reform law, cannot fathom how Rauner's proposal to move every state employee and public school teacher into. the lower-cost "Tier Two" pension plan on July 1st will actually save that much money in the first year, or "immediately" knock $25 billion off the state's mas- sive unfunded liability. Let's just take him at his word on this one, as supremely diffi- cult as that likely is. The problem with the plan is that he's counting on that $2.2 billion "savings" to help balance the budget next fis- Cal year. All those who be- lieve that a judge won't al- most immediately stop the plan's implementation, as another judge did to the last pension reform law, please raise their hands. Anybody? Hello? I didn't think so. There is no way on God's green Earth that the state 002015 Member of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors PHONE (618) 224-9422 FAX (618) 224-2646 email: mikel_00tren[onsun.net Michael L. Conley, Editor 8 Publisher THE TRENTON SUN is published weekly by Michael L. and L. Sybil Conley 19 West Broadway, Trenton, IL 62293 Subscriptions paid in advance: $21 per year, $35 per year outside Clinton County $40 per year outside the U.S. Newsstand copies 50 ESTABLISHED IN 1880 ENTERED AT THE TRENTON, IL POST OFFICE AS A PERIODICAL (USPS 638-200) Postmaster: Send address changes to The Trenton Sun, P.O. Box 118, Tmnzon,/Z 62293 can rely on that $2.2 billion savings next fiscal year. It's a complete and utter fan- tasy, which makes this yet another dishonest budget. House Speaker Michael Madigan called the idea "reckless" after the gover- nor's budget address. Madigan's right, but. his counterproposal wasn't a solution, either. Madigan resurrected the idea of a three percentage point tax on personal income above a million dollars. But, at most, Madigan's proposal would only raise a billion dollars a year. The deficit is nine times that amount. And then there's the problem of implementa- tion. Madigan's spokesman reaffirmed that the pro- posal can't be put into place without first winning the approval of voters via a con- stitutional amendment ref- erendum. But that can't be done for almost two years. The idea has zero worth for next fiscal year's budget, which begins on July 1st. OK, back to Gov. Rauner. During and after the cam- paign, Rauner said Quinn and the Democrats had constantly "kicked the can" down the road. Again, he was right. This fiscal year's budget plan moved spend- ing off budget, which cre- ated gigantic holes in next fiscal year's budget. But Gov. Rauner did the exact same thing last week with employee group health insurance. The state's back- log is about a billion dollars. Some providers aren't being paid for a year. But Rauner would increase that back- RICH MILLER log by up to $700 million by cutting the money spent on health insurance next fiscal year and not dealing with projected cost increases. His "savings" are completely il- lusory. Ironically enough, the governor visited a Hormel Foods plant the day after delivering his budget ad- dress. No word on whether he kicked a can of Spam down the hallway While he was there. And then there's the myr- iad of smallish savings he derives from eliminating tiny programs that benefit some of the most vulnerable people in Illinois. Homeless youth services will be elimi- nated, for example. And at a time when heroin use is sky- rocketing, Rauner proposes to cut the state's treatment program. The state eliminated Med- icaid funding for dental ser- vices a few years ago. It was restored when Democrats, with plenty of evidence, claimed the cut was actu- ally leading to higher costs elsewhere in the Medicaid budget. Rauner wants to eliminate it again. The bottom line here is that no matter whatever else you read or hear, this budget is neither honest nor real. It's instead a too-clever- by-half concoction of bud- getary magic beans. Alr two years of avoid- ing any sort of detailed ques- tions about his budget plans while on the campaign trail, Rauner basically punted the entire budget to the General Assembly last week. And it's: difficult to have much con- fidence in those particular folks after how badly they screwed up this year's bud- get. Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily politi- cal newsletter, and Capitol- Fax.com.