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More potential debt-ceiling conditions

June 30, 2011 - Mike Maneval
Efforts to follow debate on raising the debt ceiling, as I've complained before, are frustrating because details on potential spending cuts are vague, and far too imprecise to develop a sense of whether the proposals are worthy of support or not.

News on Tuesday, however, included a bright gleam of precision and maturity, as Tom Coburn, Republican Senator of Oklahoma and Joe Lieberman, independent Senator of Connecticut, proposed cuts to medicare, including the responsible step in the right direction of raising the age of eligibility. Ages of eligibility for entitlement programs - Social Security especially but Medicare too - allow the pool of beneficiaries to balloon as average life expectancies rise in age. The plan also gradually increases beneficaries' copayments and premiums.

Another idea was floated by Anthony Randazzo and Satya Thallam at Reason magazine's website last week. "There is another option the gossip pages haven't mentioned: a sunset date for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

While plans for complete abolition may be a proverbial bridge too far, tightening caps on assistance rendered or revising standards to apply for the assistance to shrink the field of potential beneficiaries would reduce spending. Randazzo and Thallam argue congressional support for the housing assistance programs is low, quoting Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, chairman of the House Finance Committee and ernstwhile defender of housing assistance and the missions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, acknowledging he believes "they should be abolished." Randazzo and Thallam also add the U.S. Treasury Department has said the programs "could be wound down."

While none of these ideas need to be a hard-and-fast condition for raising the debt ceiling, all have merit and deserve to be on the table. And the day is coming, and soon, when decisions will have to be made and specific spending cuts to slow or stop the growth of the debt. It is fair for Republicans to connect the debt ceiling to the dawning of that day - but Americans should expect more specificity from leaders of both parties as the day comes.


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