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Compromise needed for long-term budget fix

Don't look now, but more economic trouble looms for the nation in less than two weeks.

Unless Congress suddenly gets responsible, automatic spending cuts totaling $1 trillion over nine years will kick in on March 1.

This "sequestration," as it is known, was a sort of doomsday device planted in 2011 by Democrats and Republicans to force themselves to compromise on a long-term deficit-reduction plan.

Unfortunately, that grand bargain never materialized - the two sides don't like each other very much, in case you haven't noticed - and now it looks as if they might just shoot off their nose to spite their face.

Like any doomsday weapon, the sequestration cuts are designed to be clumsy, ugly and harmful to the economy - and they will be.

They will take money from the one-third of federal spending that funds core government functions - national defense, law enforcement and education.

At the same time, the process conveniently ignores the real problem:

Benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare have to be reformed.

They now account for three-fifths of federal spending and are exploding in cost.

The sequestration cuts might feel good in the short term, but they are not good medicine for the nation in the long term.

According to USA Today, the Bipartisan Policy Center says the disruption of government would cost 1 million jobs (public and private) over two years.

This at a time when economic growth actually fell slightly in the last quarter - due largely to - surprise! - drops in government spending.

And despite the deep sequestration cuts, the government's need to continue borrowing would be barely touched. Because the cuts don't target the real spending problem.

According to USA Today, entitlement costs have risen from $98 billion, or 40 percent of the budget, in 1973 to $2.3 trillion, or 60 percent of the budget in 2013.

Today's figure amounts to $7,400 for each man, woman and child in America. These numbers are set to explode as the Baby Boom generation retires.

There are some common-sense solutions: The eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security could be gradually nudged higher for able-bodied workers.

Well-off beneficiaries could be asked to pay more.

Patients could pay more out-of-pocket for health care entitlements.

Social Security cost-of-living increases could be tweaked to make the raises slightly less generous.

Yes, that means the middle class will have to shoulder the lion's share of the burden, but that's only fair - it also receives most of the benefits.

Democrats - and advocates for seniors such as AARP - need to stop fighting any and all attempts to reform Social Security and Medicare.

Republicans need to consider new revenues as part of the overall fix.

Here's a simple example, let the federal government use its purchasing power to force lower prescription drug prices for Medicare and Medicaid.

It's sad and frustrating that both parties would like to see a long-term fix, but can't seem to get past their ideologies and personal enmities enough to compromise and get the job done.

Detroit Lakes Newspapers