Editorial: ‘Heretic’ Stockman telling more truths

Published 5:58 pm Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our former congressman, Berrien County’s own Dave Stockman, famously was “taken to the woodshed” as President Ronald Reagan’s budget director for casting aspersions with William Greider in the Atlantic Monthly on trickle-down economics and tax cuts without spending cuts exploding deficits.

Stockman is a Republican realist who understands we cannot afford the Bush tax cuts many want Congress to extend.

“They shouldn’t have been enacted in 2001 and 2003,” Stockman said last week on CNN. “It’s $300 billion a year of revenue that we desperately need” — $3 trillion over a decade.

“Therefore,” Stockman said, “we have to level with the public and tell them that the revenue that we’re going to need to pay for government unfortunately is going to come out of their pocket. For 30 years, both parties have been telling the public that we can have this massive government — 24 percent of GDP — all these programs. We can be an imperial power, policing the world, and we don’t have to raise the tax revenue needed to support it.”

Stockman sees budget cuts “across the board,” but “I’ll start with defense. We have experimented with a kind of adventurism for the last two decades of trying to police the world in a much different world than we had in the Cold War. As far as I can tell, it’s been largely a failure and we’ve built up an $800 billion homeland security and defense establishment we cannot afford. I’m talking about Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m talking about the kind of imperialist pretensions that led to nation-building.”

“Parker Spitzer” co-host Eliot Spitzer, former Democratic governor of New York, felt compelled to interject, “I want to remind folks who are listening, you’re a conservative Republican.”

Stockman said Social Security “needs to be means-tested. In other words, it’s a $700 billion a year program that’s the heart of the budget and we’re going to have to say to the better-off elderly, people already retired — this will be seen as unfair, but it’s unavoidable — we’ll look at your private assets, your private income and above a certain level, let’s say $50,000, we’re going to have a ratcheting back of your Social Security check as a contribution to solving this problem. We really have to be willing to take on what I call the sick care lobby, the cartel of doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, scooter chair manufacturers who all live off this program and control it. Reimbursements are not efficient and there is an enormous amount that needs to be done to cut that back. It would be very tough politically because these organizations, more or less, own the program and have made massive contributions to both Republicans and Democrats.”

The Tea Party movement exhibits “lots of good intention,” in Stockman’s assessment. “They’re very earnest, but naive. The two things they’re naive about, one, they don’t understand the terrible legacy of 30 years of the Republican Party waving the white flag of surrender on spending. As a result of that, there are too many people in the party, in both houses, too much of the organization committed to farm subsidies, ethanol subsidies, never touching Social Security … They’re going to be surprised how little there is left on the table they can go after.”
Stockman also believes the Tea Party “has a wrong view on the fraud, waste and abuse issue. They keep talking about earmarks. I believe that’s a very bad practice, but you know, it’s $8 billion a year, which is basically 15 hours of federal spending.”

“We should have allowed whatever banks were going to go down to go down. If Goldman Sachs went down, it went down.  It is an urban legend fostered by panicky people on Wall Street, including people in the Bush administration and (former Treasury Secretary Henry) Paulson in particular that said the next day the ATM machines aren’t going to open. That was never remotely possible. We ended up doing something — bailing out Wall Street — that will make fiscal governance almost impossible for a decade to come,” he said.

CNN referred to Stockman as a “heretic.” Maybe he is, but he retains the ring of the truth teller taken to the woodshed.

And to rein in the federal budget, someone needs to speak truth to power.