Many options for trimming soaring deficits, just not the will to use them 

The worst thing about the federal budget is not the nation's record $1.6 trillion deficit, according to budget experts -- it's the lack of political will in Washington to reduce it.

"The problem is we have met the enemy, and it's us," said Jonathan D. Breul, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government and a former White House budget officer. "Until we have the will to sit down and make some adjustments, it's going to be hard to deal with this."

President Obama released a $ 3.8 trillion budget with sobering deficit projections that forecast a $1.3 trillion deficit in fiscal 2011, followed by an $828 billion deficit the next year -- when he runs for re-election.

One of Obama's central campaign promises from 2008 was a vow to cut the deficit in half during his first term -- a promise the White House says has been overtaken by a worse-than-expected fiscal picture.

"We have to get our economy moving again because one of the reasons that we've seen the budget deficit grow is that the economy has slowed down," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Despite White House projections, federal deficits are expected to get worse in the second half of the decade, as more baby boomers fade from the work force and start draining entitlements like Medicare and Social Security.


Some budget-busting ideas from the experts:

* Put a spending cap on the budget, force the government to balance its budget like states do.

* Freeze all government spending, including defense and national security.

* Cancel pay raises for federal workers.

* Shut down the Troubled Asset Relief Program and cancel further stimulus spending.

* Repeal last year's S-Chip expansion.

* Get serious about entitlement reform.


Many have lost a substantial portion of their retirement savings in the current recession, and could be relying on government assistance more than expected.

Dealing with entitlements is the top issue budget experts said would have the deepest effect on deficit reduction. But tinkering with taxpayers' benefits is extremely unpopular in Congress.

"If you are going to go after spending, you have to go after entitlements -- if you're serious," said J.D. Foster, a senior economics analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Foster said Congress should raise the eligibility age for Social Security, change the way benefits are calculated and reduce or eliminate government health subsidies for wealthy retirees.

"We can debate whether they should get back what they paid in, but rich seniors do not need a subsidy from the government," Foster said.

Obama is proposing a three-year freeze on some federal spending starting next year, and the formation of a bipartisan budget commission to study ways to cut programs and increase revenue.

Chris Edwards, a budget expert at the Cato Institute, called the proposed commission a "Trojan horse" for a tax increase.

"Why would Democrats want a commission unless they wanted to sneak a tax increase through and they know they could never do it without Republican cover?" Edwards said.

A more meaningful spending cut would cover all categories in the federal budget, Edwards said, including defense spending and a salary freeze for federal workers.

More deficit reduction could be achieved by returning the rest of the money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the unspent stimulus funds back to the treasury, he said.

"There will be a financial crisis sometime down the road, and really neither party is taking it seriously," Edwards said.


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