I've got a great plan for handling the fiscal cliff crisis that is causing massive headaches for both Democrats and Republicans in Washington.
I'm calling it "Chill" in honor of the Sirius satellite music channel I was listening to as the plan came to mind while I was driving home from downtown Salem tonight. Appropriate, because if there's anything our country needs right now, it's a chilling of the feverish right-left political arguing.
Today Obama presented a fiscal cliff proposal to GOP leaders. They freaked out over it.
Apparently Republicans haven't gotten the news that President Obama was resoundingly re-elected after campaigning on promises to raise taxes on the wealthy and preserve social programs. House leader John Boehner is frustrated that the Dems aren't caving on those promises.
Boehner has his own internal problems, since most Republican members of Congress have signed a Grover Norquist pledge to never, ever raise taxes on anybody. Yet taxes on everybody are going to go up next year if nothing is done because that's how George Bush and the GOP planned it when the Bush tax cuts were passed.
They had an expiration date. And that date is fast approaching. Yet bipartisan agreement on fiscal cliff deficit reduction seems discouragingly far away.
So my Venti Starbucks Nonfat Vanilla Latte fueled brain came up with a brilliant idea to let both sides have their cake and eat it too. Then, see whether the Democrat or Republican approaches create economic indigestion or a pleasantly balanced budget.
My dream is to have a Red State - Blue State competition. Americans love sports. Why not select two teams of states which represent the most avid players on both sides? West Coast and Northeast versus Deep South and Lower Midwest, say.
Many people in those Red states have been clamoring to secede from the Union after Obama's re-election. They want to go their own way. Well, my Chill Plan allows that -- to a certain extent. Likewise, Blue staters don't want their progressive path forward to be blocked by conservative "no, no, no!" cries in Congress.
OK. Let's conduct an experiment.
Instead of endlessly arguing about which party has the best policy prescriptions for what ails the federal budget, let's let those Red and Blue states carry out different approaches to deficit reduction. Which would be a piece of the deficit reduction pie, not the whole thing.
Areas like military spending and certain universal domestic programs (can't have FAA staff in only certain airports, for example, or NWS weather forecasts for only part of the country) wouldn't be part of the Red-Blue competition.
The focus would be on tax revenues and entitlement program spending.
Republicans don't want tax rates to go up. They believe increased revenues can come from unspecified tax reform efforts. Romney even believed that rates could go down, and federal revenues could go up. Magical thinking, in my opinion, but if the Red Team states want to call that play, go for it.
Social Security would be off limits in my Chill Plan. Medicare and Medicaid wouldn't be. Republicans want to voucher'ize Medicare so seniors would have a fixed amount to buy either private insurance or a government plan. Medicaid would be cut substantially and made into a block grant program to states.
Let's allow Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, et. al. to keep the Bush tax cuts for wealthy people living in their states. Let's allow them to alter the federal tax code on deductions/tax expenditures. Let's allow them to fiddle with Medicare and Medicaid for enrollees who live in the Red Team states.
On the other side, Democrats want higher taxes on the wealthy, especially on those making over $1 million a year. They want to invest in infrastructure spending and other government programs to stimulate the economy.
Dems expect the Affordable Care Act to lessen the rate of growth in Medicare/Medicaid costs. They'd rather fix inefficiences and excesses in the health care system than reduce benefits to enrollees. So let's let California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, and other states on the Blue Team carry out a progressive vision of deficit reduction.
It'd be a fascinating social experiment. With some clear rules. Each team would have to meet a defined target for reducing federal expenditures. Say this was $2 trillion over 10 years. Each state "player" on the Red and Blue teams would have a proportionate slice of the deficit reduction pie it had to come up with.
I'd love to see how this game played out. Being a progressive, I expect that people in the Red Team states would be unpleasantly surprised at what happens when the wealthy get even more, and seniors/poor people get even less.
But, hey, if that's what they want, so be it. Us avid members of the Blue Team (Oregon went solidly for Obama) would be moving ahead with our own deficit reduction strategy: raising taxes on the rich, investing in the future, providing essential health services to every citizen.
My prediction is that the Blue Team would kick the Red Team's economic ass. Surprises might happen, though. Some right-wing ideas might turn out to work better than Democrats expect. Ditto for left-wing ideas that shock conservatives when they succeed.
There's a lot of wrinkles to iron out in my Chill Plan. I'd need quite a few more Venti Lattes to accomplish that. Since I don't rule the world (sadly), I won't be heading to Starbucks for that brain fuel.
I just like the notion of setting political trash-talking aside and seeing which party's economic policies actually play better. That's tough to find out in our current political situation, where Republicans can block Democratic initiatives because they control the House and incessantly engage in Senate filibusters.
Why not let each side do its own thing in the most extreme Red and Blue states? Then see who comes out the winner. Won't happen. But I can dream...