I understand what the GOP leaders are doing in putting off the debt ceiling fight until after they bank the gains from the sequester. I understand them trying to put the onus on the Senate to pass a budget. I understand these things, and I don’t think they are awful idea — but I would do something just a bit different. I would not pass a clean debt ceiling hike for the equivalent of three months; I would tie it to a very nominal package of savings, even if only, say, $15 billion over ten years, if just to establish the principle that cuts belong with debt ceiling hikes.
But I wouldn’t just put a number on it. The number of the dollars saved isn’t important. What’s important is the substance of the savings. The savings should be highly specified. They should be the sorts of things that will make the Dems look bad if they disagree.
For instance: Right now, the federal government pays $14 toward each federal worker’s pension for every $1 the worker contributes. The private sector norm is $1 to $1 — an even match. Sen. Ron Johnson reports that an even match would save $133 billion over a ten-year span. Okay, then, how about being ultra-reasonable and moving from 14-1 down to 12 1/2-2 1/2? The savings from that tiny change, asking federal workers to contribute a TINY bit more to their own retirements, would save about $14 billion over ten years (by VERY rough extrapolations). Who could object to that?
Likewise, another $10 billion over ten years could be saved on federal worker health insurance (again, by some rough math of my own). How? Private sector usually fork over about 60% of the premiums for each worker’s health insurance, with the workers providing 40%. (This number is an approximation, from memory, having checked several slightly conflicting sources about a month ago.) The federal government, however, provides about 72% of the premiums for family coverage. How about just cutting that 72% to 66.7%? The difference is less than $40 a month per worker. The savings, though, would be about $1 billion per year.
Who could object to that?
Or…. whatever. The point is to find REALLY low-hanging fruit, in terms of savings, and tie it to the debt ceiling. Make sure it is something that tests well and proves overwhelmingly popular — just as it proved popular to advocate cutting the “bridge to nowhere.” Tie such a popular cut — not cutting a popular program, but popularly cutting a ridiculous specific bit or few bits of federal largesse — to the debt ceiling hike; get it donw weeks in advance, and then go about the House’s other business. It’s then up to Obama to explain why he is putting the government into “default” rather than agreeing to cut a bridge to nowhere, or whatever.
IF we bank small savings, and then bank more small savings — not savings from the rate of increase, but real savings, even if small, from real programs — and then bank some more, each time there’s a fight, then we serve the taxpayers, built credibility, and keep Obama on the defensive.
That’s why the debt ceiling hike should not be completely clean. Mostly clean, maybe…. but not entirely. We do need to establish the principle of saving taxpayer dollars.