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January 17, 2013

Another ‘cliff’ on the horizon for U.S.

NORMAN — Well, the country dodged a bullet with the agreement between President Barack Obama and the Congress to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff.” It would be nice to breath a sigh of relief that such nonsense is over. Alas, it’s not.

The next fiscal mess comes up in less than two months — the battle over lifting the debt ceiling. Expect another donnybrook as congressional Republicans attempt to force the president into accepting further cuts in federal spending in exchange for accepting a higher debt limit.

We may not need reminding that lifting the debt ceiling in the past was noncontroversial. It is basically a step to permit the treasury to pay bills the U.S. owes. It has no effect on future spending.

Regardless, the GOP plans to use this routine action to compel the president to accept more spending reductions. It really is a form of blackmail.

So what do the Republicans in Congress want to cut? Certainly not the defense budget, although that should be an obvious target. Reducing domestic discretionary spending would not be nearly enough to make a difference in the debt.

All of this means that the search clearly leads to where the big money is — in so- called entitlement spending. The two largest such programs — Social Security and Medicare — are ones that most Americans have invested in for decades. Nonetheless, they remain (along with Medicaid) as the only real source of the enormous amount needed to put a dent in the government’s debt.

We can identify several compelling alternatives to cutting programs that provide popular and even indispensible benefits for mostly older citizens. All involve raising more revenue. Take Social Security first.

A major first step in improving the fiscal viability of this trust fund is to lift the earnings cap on high-income taxpayers. (Currently, wage earners pay no Social Security tax above the level of $113,700.) Such a step would raise an immense sum.

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