Books and the Arts,The Learning Curve
• Scott Rasmussen, The People’s Money: How Voters Will Balance the Budget and Eliminate the Federal Debt, New York: Threshold Editions, 2011, 278 pages, $26.
I realize this will come as a shock to most of you, but here goes: The so-called Political Class in Washington is out of touch with the rest of us.
I’ll admit that most of us rely on anecdotal evidence to make that case. However Scott Rasmussen provides us with concrete evidence in his book The People’s Money: How Voters Will Balance the Budget and Eliminate the Debt.
Rasmussen was chairman of the John Locke Foundation and JLF’s first contract pollster before he founded Rasmussen Reports, one of the nation’s most respected opinion polling firms. Rasmussen uses polls he’s gathered through the years to craft a plan, as the title states, to balance the budget and eliminate the debt. It’s a crucial read heading into the November election, when the country’s massive debt and runaway spending will be the overriding campaign issue.
Who better than a respected pollster to gauge the true feelings of the American public toward core issues such as defense spending, Social Security, Medicare, the tax system, and corporate welfare?
Hard to believe (insert sarcasm), but the majority of people who earn our trust while campaigning for public office either have no idea what “we the people” really think or simply don’t care.
If anything, Rasmussen maintains, the Political Class “wants to govern like it’s 1775, a time when kings were kings and consent of the governed was irrelevant.
“The key facts are fairly straightforward: American voters have, for the last four or five decades, consistently elected candidates who promised to reduce government taxes and spending. Despite that clear directive from the voters, government spending has gone up every year since 1954,” he writes.
So while voters have been duped time and again, Rasmussen definitely does not contend that we’re a country populated by simpletons. To contrary, he believes the American people “have good, sound, positive instincts and are far more interested in moving the nation forward rather than settling old scores.”
With that in mind, Rasmussen’s book is most definitely nonpartisan, forming a policy plan based on his polling over the years, which brings to bear those “sound, positive instincts” of the American people.
Take for example the three biggest challenges facing our country: national defense, Social Security, and Medicare.
“It would be a mistake to sacrifice the nation’s defense just to balance the budget,” Rasmussen argues, “but by aligning the military mission with popular opinion it is possible to save trillions of dollars over the coming decade.”
And what is popular opinion regarding America’s military mission? First and foremost, Americans desire a “sense of balance” when it comes to national defense. While 60 percent of Americans still believe the United States should remain involved with the United Nations, reaction toward military intervention on the international scene is more tepid.
While Iraq and Afghanistan provide startling examples — an August 2011 poll found that 59 percent of Americans want troops brought home — only 33 percent of voters believed we should lend additional military support to one of our strongest allies, South Korea, if it came under attack.
As for Europe, a startling two-to-one margin — 55 to 28 percent — believe the United States should withdraw its troops from Europe. Similar numbers support withdrawing U.S. troops from Japan.
As for Social Security and Medicare, Rasmussen makes no bones about the fact that both systems as they currently exist are unsustainable. Meanwhile, the Political Class hides its head in the sand, “acting as if the only issue at all is an accounting question about how to balance the long-term income and expense streams of the trust fund.”
The overwhelming majority of Americans believe the Social Security trust fund should not be scrapped, with 89 percent believing it’s important for the trust fund to collect enough in taxes so that all promised benefits could be paid.
But Social Security — as Rasmussen quotes Dallas Federal Reserve Bank president Richard Fisher — “is but the tip of our unfunded liability iceberg.”
Lurking beneath the surface is Medicare, which currently costs more than $500 billion annually, with costs expected to continue to rise for years to come.
Americans remain wary of any changes to Medicare — 64 percent want any changes to Medicare approved by voters. Even so, only 31 percent supported a federal policy providing “free” healthcare for all, such as a single-payer system, if it meant abandoning their current health care in favor of a government program.
The polls appear to show that Americans want their cake and to eat it, too, but it’s not quite that simple. While the solutions to these problems are indeed complex, Rasmussen’s polls show Americans have some sound ideas to ease our fiscal bind, most of which involve providing more flexibility when receiving government benefits.
As for a Balanced Budget Amendment — a conservative talking point that 56 percent of voters support — Rasmussen offers a word of caution, saying it “would make sense to pass a BBA only after major reforms have been implemented … the BBA should be viewed more as a tool to help keep spending under control, rather than a tool to get it there in the first place.”
The BBA would have to go before voters for approval, and Rasmussen is big on putting many revolutionary reforms directly to the people.
“Voters are the solution, not the problem,” Rasmussen writes. “There is a way out of the fiscal crisis: their way. It’s the path the Political Class won’t want to take, but voters shouldn’t be too concerned with what the politicians want.”
Imagine such a world. It’s not too late to make it reality, but pardon me if I have the feeling that the timeline to do so is growing shorter every day.