Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to end a reviled subsidy for ethanol producers, saving an estimated $6 billion a year, and it was tempting to think: Whew, maybe this whole budget-balancing thing is getting somewhere.
Then a look at the roll call revealed this: Among those voting “no” were all 18 senators from the nine states producing 80 percent of U.S.-grown corn. Ten Republicans, eight Democrats. A bipartisan reminder that some things never change.
Three of the nays came from members of the “Gang of Six” supposedly working to cut our persistent budget deficits by a reported $4.7 trillion during the next decade. One nay was cast by Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss — who, a spokeswoman said, preferred letting the subsidy expire at year’s end so as not to disrupt farmers’ budgets for the year. That might be defensible if the largesse in question weren’t so indefensible.
Thursday’s nays point to America’s broader problem: The discussion of deficits tends to include only what we want other people to give up.
From the left, almost all the talk is about taxing the rich, socking it to those greedy corporations and making the military bear the brunt of the cuts — while expanding social-welfare programs and refusing to examine the burden of current and potential regulations.
From the right, it’s more or less the opposite.
Look, I get it. It doesn’t take much arm-twisting for me to admit that I broadly agree with the view from the right.
I believe the federal government is running historically high deficits mostly because its spending is historically high. And I don’t think raising taxes on “the rich” — whom the left defines erroneously, and who already pay the majority of individual taxes in this country — would be particularly helpful, from an economic or a revenue standpoint.
That said, let me make an observation that should be obvious: We didn’t amass a $14 trillion national debt without everyone getting something.
There is nothing noble about offering paeans to sacrifice by others. Nor is it getting us very far. So, let me make a suggestion: Those who want to contribute to the deficit debate should begin by naming what they’re willing to give up.
I mean at least three things, at least one of which comes from the budget’s biggest pots of money (entitlements and defense), and at least two of which are in the here and now — as opposed to something anticipated in the future.
Tomato farmers who’d ditch ethanol subsidies don’t count. Nor do wealthy Americans who say “tax me more!” while their accountants exploit loopholes to keep their taxes low.
My personal examples:
Am I hopelessly naive to think Americans can apply “me first” to what they give up rather than what they receive? I hope not. Because, if I am, I don’t like our chances.
– By Kyle Wingfield