Capitol Hill (CNN) - What do you think the deficit debate is about? How to cut the $1.5 trillion deficit? The dream of, some far off day, bringing down the $14.2 trillion national debt?
Try: It's about what Americans want their country to be. What society and government will become.
In this week's American Sauce, we look at the congressional deficit battle big picture. How this money fight could shape American society and government for years. We focus on three larger issues in this fight and compare how the plans from Team Obama and the GOP's Team Ryan would steer the broader future.
Listen here. Comment below. Or keep reading.
The Profound Deficit
Consider three of the ways this hefty deficit debate is a battle over national philosophy.
1. Rich vs. Poor
The prominent example of this old-as-man debate in the deficit battle will be the Bush tax cuts. It may also be an issue threatening another, future government shutdown.
President Obama, does not want to extend those tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Those making over $250,000 a year. And he's making it a vow. "I refuse to renew them again," he said in his deficit speech last week.
Republicans are just as adamant that the tax cuts must be extended for everyone. To do otherwise, they say, is a tax increase. And here's the Republican double-dare: GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell's response to the president's deficit plan? "We will not be discussing raising taxes."
The debate may focus a lot on the relative costs or benefits of the Bush tax cuts. But it is also about how society works. Should the rich, who have more, be required to give more in the name of lifting society as a whole. Or should the rich be allowed to spend their wealth as they see best, with the idea that those individual decisions by the rich would be the best for the economy and society?
2. What We Want to Encourage
In other words, the tax code. Both Team Ryan and Team Obama promote a simpler tax code with lower tax rates and fewer deductions. (Note: Team Ryan has given more specifics thus far but we don't have the full details from either deficit plan.)
Changing the tax code is like changing the financial ecosystem, altering where the sun shines and where it doesn't. Which parts of the economy get extra rainfall and which ones dry up.
Examples: The mortgage deduction absolutely boost home ownership in America. Corporate deductions clearly affect large charitable giving and large, business-expensed luncheons alike.
As Congress debates a major overhaul of the tax code, it is debating one of the largest motivating forces in society. It helps decide what grows in America and what shrinks.
3. What Government Should Be
Dust off the Friedrich Hayak versus Milton Friedman chapters. (Philosopher name-drop there, thanks to a mention from our government philosopher guest Josh Cohen of Stanford, who you can hear in the podcast.)
Or just look around.
The debate over what to spend and what to cut is a debate over the shape of government for the long-term debt-soaked future.
-President Obama's version: government continues to run Medicare, launch a new health care system (where government has tighter regulation of insurers), provide safety-net guarantees and keep society protected. Washington must cut spending, but should do it as evenly as possible, including cuts to the Pentagon.
-Republican/Paul Ryan's version: government's hand is too heavy and must be pulled out of several sectors, including health care. Ryan's budget would privatize Medicare, dismantle the Obama health care law and limit some federal safety net programs, like food stamps or SNAP.
It's debate over not just the size of government, but the power of government. What role government should have in society? Where do we need government and where should we instead trust or force individuals to make decisions and survive for themselves?
Again, listen to the podcast here. [AUDIO LINK} And please leave a comment below when the window is open.
Also, tell your friends about our show. We are trying to infuse congressional reporting with some home-baked substance. And we're just tired of the silly fingerpointing soundbites, so we ignore them.
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