That which a president wants to hear is one thing, and what he needs to hear often is something entirely different.
A Congressional Budget Office report on Social Security reform, issued last week, falls into the latter category.
It simply isn't practical, the CBO said, to divert a portion of money from the traditional fund to private accounts without either raising payroll taxes or cutting benefits. That would create an unacceptably severe shortfall in the traditional fund, which already is expected to begin running deficits in about 15 years.
The problem is that George W. Bush says he won't raise taxes, and lower benefits wouldn't be politically palatable.
There is, however, a third option significant cuts in the overall federal budget. Not only would that reduce the "need" to spend surplus Social Security contributions on routine government expenses, it might free up some money actually to subsidize the program during its transition period.
Pundits are fond of identifying waste in the federal budget. For example, Citizens Against Government Waste says $2.3 million was spent over the past four years to determine whether prayer helps people overcome serious illnesses.
There also are some bigger targets. The Heritage Foundation this summer identified several federal programs that it said were "unnecessary, actively damaging, or properly the responsibility of state governments or the private sector." Congress could save $300 billion a year by chopping them, Heritage said.
Many other think tanks have similar lists. The president needs to embrace some of those ideas and push them relentlessly or, as he has suggested he might, impose a spending freeze. At the very least, he has to begin brandishing his veto pen on wasteful spending something that he did exactly zero times during his first term.
Government cannot have it all, and its excesses of the past are catching up with it. "Tax and spend" and "borrow and spend" won't cut it anymore. It's time for a policy of "cut and spend."
The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)
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