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Tiny Nibbles 

We'll never eat away at the federal deficit if we only take one bite at a time.

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Compared to this, Egypt was easy. With protestors back to work in Cairo, Barack Obama returned to tend the homefires this week. No biggie — just the nation’s $1.5 trillion budget deficit.

It’s kind of like finally opening up that bill and looking at the damage on your Visa statement after a particularly generous Christmas. Only in the case of these United States, it’s been a bender of epic, unprecedented proportions — 10 years of unchecked spending on everything from wars to vast, new federal bureaucracies to Wall Street bailouts. Now the bill’s due. Bummer.

The president’s budget has some brutal news for the states, which are already flailing, and for the poor, whose safety net is being dismantled. Meanwhile, Republicans on Capitol Hill say it’s not brutal enough — that their plan is tougher on the deficit they helped create.

Both sides, however, are just nibbling at the edges. Anybody who has looked at the federal budget notices something pretty obvious pretty quickly — discretionary spending is just a small slice. And that’s where the president and his opponents are fiddling — nobody is talking about the gorillas in the room: entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security) and defense.

The recent Federal Deficit Commission saw the problem, and it found $4 trillion in savings over the coming decade. Trouble is, the members of the commission are all retired politicians.

No current office-holder who wants to keep his government-run health care plan will touch the idea of gradually extending the retirement age for Social Security to 69 (as the commission recommended).

As long as these big-ticket items remain untouchable sacred cows, our $1.5 trillion annual budget deficit will be impossible to tame. It’d be like an everyday American family being notified they are losing their house and, to work their way out, they decide to cut HBO out of their cable TV package — but not Showtime, that stays!

Obama has correctly pointed out that the entitlements in the budget need to be tackled cooperatively. No one party will take it on for fear of being painted as anti-Social Security in the next election. As Obama put it, both sides need to get in the boat together, at the same time, so as not to capsize the whole thing.

So as you hear all the talk over whether $30 billion or $100 billion in cuts are enough, be skeptical. That’s barely scratching the surface of our problem.

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