《经济学人》:预算,真正的战斗打响了
日期:2011-04-19 10:51

(单词翻译:单击)

The budget预算 The real fight begins真正的战斗打响了

As a government shutdown looms, an attempt to grapple with America’s long-term deficit problems is at last under way
政府关门之危迫在眉睫,最终总算有人挺身而出解决美国长期的赤字问题了

CONGRESS may not be very good at passing budgets, but that is not for lack of discussion of them. This week it was by three overlapping budgetary debates: about a “continuing resolution” to keep the government up and running for the rest of this fiscal year, about next year’s budget and about whether to raise the legal limit on the federal government’s debt. Lawmakers have just under six months to sort out next year’s budget, and under six weeks before America’s debt reaches the current ceiling. But without a new resolution, the government’s authority to spend will expire at midnight on April 8th, forcing much of it to shut up shop. As The Economist went to press, the Republicans who run the House of Representatives, the Democrats who run the Senate and Barack Obama himself were holding last-ditch talks, but also warning their staffs to prepare for a shutdown.

国会可能并不是很擅长通过预算,但这并不是因为议员之间缺乏讨论沟通。本周国会将同时忙于三场关于预算的辩论:有关“延续性决议”的辩论,以维持政府运转直至本财政年度结束;有关下一年度预算的辩论;有关是否应提升联邦政府债务法定上限的辩论。立法人员仅有不到六个月的时间整理下一年度的预算,更是仅有不到六周的时间美国的债务就到达当前的上限了。但在没有新决议的情况下,政府开支之权将在4月8日午夜12点废止,政府大部分部门将被迫关门。截至本期《经济学人》付梓之时,共和党控制的众议院、民主党控制的参议院及贝拉克·奥巴马总统本人在举行最后的会谈,同时也警告各自职员为政府关门做好准备。

This cliffhanger is the culmination of months of fiscal bickering, punctuated by stopgap continuing resolutions. Since February the Republicans have been holding out for $61 billion in cuts to this year’s budget, including assaults on favoured Democratic causes such as public broadcasting (see article). The Democrats argue that their proposal is too extreme, too political, and too narrowly focused. The previous two continuing resolutions, which had lifespans of two and three weeks respectively, were intended to allow the two sides enough time to hammer out a compromise for the rest of the year.

这一悬念标志着数月以来关于财政的争吵,在“延续性决议”这一权宜之计的推波助澜下达到顶峰。自二月份以来,共和党人一直坚持削减本年度财政预算610亿美元,包括攻击民主党倡导的、备受民众欢迎的众多事业,例如公共广播项目(见文章)。民主党则认为共和党人的建议苛刻、政见强烈、目光狭隘。前两个延续性决议分别为期2周和3周,目的是为双方提供足够的时间达成妥协,度过本财政年度剩余的几个月。

Predictably, much of that time was instead spent grandstanding. The House recently passed a bill stating that if the Senate did not pass a budget of its own, the House’s $61 billion cut, which the Senate had already rejected, should become law anyway. Needless to say, the Senate did not embrace this idea. House Republicans then took to protesting on the Senate steps each day, calling on the Democrats’ leader in that chamber, Harry Reid, to resign. Meanwhile, a group of tea-party activists threatened dire vengeance on any Republicans who voted for anything less than the full $61 billion of cuts. A bipartisan group of 64 of the 100 senators sent Mr Obama a letter asking him to find a solution to their problems. Mr Obama called Congress’s failure to pass a budget “inexcusable” and said that he would summon the leaders of its two chambers to the White House every day for talks until a deal was done.

不难预测,大部分时间都被浪费在哗众取宠上了。众议院最近通过了一项议案,该议案指出:如果参议院否决众议院的预算——实际上参议院早已否决该预算——那该预算必将通过,具有法律效力。无需多言,参议院不接受这一建议。众议院的共和党人随后每天都抗议参议院的决议,要求参议院民主党领导人哈里·瑞德辞职。同时,一群茶党思想的激进分子威胁称将对任何支持610亿美元以下预算削减方案的共和党人实施极端报复。由100位参议员中的64位组成的两党联立组织向奥巴马总统致信一封,要求总统寻求问题的解决方案。奥巴马总统则称国会未能通过预算方案“难辞其咎”,并表示以后每天他将召见参众两院领导人到白宫进行商讨,直至达成协议之日。

A man with a plan谋略之士

It was into this maelstrom that Paul Ryan, the Republican who heads the House Budget Committee, released his proposed budget for next year on April 5th. He claimed it would slash spending by $6.2 trillion over the next ten years and the projected deficit by $4.4 trillion relative to the proposal the president unveiled in February. All of this would place America’s finances on a sounder path—though critics note that Mr Ryan’s figures are based on some highly implausible assumptions, such as a prompt collapse in the unemployment rate and a surge in growth thanks to lower taxes. Whereas under the president’s plan debt would continue to rise steadily towards 100% of GDP, Mr Ryan’s would supposedly see it peak just shy of 75% of GDP in 2013 and decline thereafter.

正是在这一大混乱背景之下,共和党人保罗·瑞恩——众议院预算委员会主席——于4月5日提出了下一年度的财政预算方案。他表示该方案将在未来十年内大幅削减政府支出,减幅达6.2万亿美元;与奥巴马总统今年二月份提出的方案相比,该方案预计将削减赤字达4.4万亿美元。所有这些措施都将使美国财政回归平稳运行轨道——尽管批评家指责瑞恩先生的数据是基于可信度极低的假设之上的——例如降低税率带来的失业率迅速下降、经济上涨。而在总统的计划中,债务将持续稳步增长至与国内生产总值相当的水平。瑞恩先生的方案中,债务占国内生产总值的比重最高峰将于2013年勉强达到75%,随后开始下降。

The Republicans claim to be able to achieve this feat by taking an axe to two of the biggest and most politically sensitive items in the budget: Medicare, government subsidised health-care for the elderly, and Medicaid, its equivalent for the poor. (There are limits to the number of live rails Mr Ryan is willing to grasp at once: his budget leaves intact the biggest single item in the budget, Social Security, the state pension scheme). These three “entitlements” already account for over 40% of government spending and are growing so fast that they will theoretically consume all government revenue within a few decades.

共和党人声称有能力完成这一壮举,但需对预算中开支最大、政治敏感度最高的两个项目进行大刀阔斧的改革。这两大项目就是:医疗改革项目——政府针对老年人实行的医疗津贴项目,和医疗补助项目——政府针对贫困人口的医疗补助项目。(瑞恩先生欲一次解决问题的数量有限:他的预算方案未触及另外一个最大的项目——社会保障制度,国家养老金方案)。这三大“公民应得权利”就占据了全部政府开支的40%以上,而且增长速度极快,理论上讲,不消几十年就将消耗全部政府财政收入。

However, the Republican proposal does nothing actually to cut the cost of health care. Instead, it transfers the burden to the states, in the case of Medicaid, and to the elderly themselves, in the case of Medicare. Medicaid would be transformed into a “block grant” to the states, allowing them much more discretion over how the money is spent. But the size of each state’s handout would be tied not to runaway medical inflation, but to the much more sedate general price index. This would trim the federal government’s projected outlay by a third within a decade and half within two, obliging unfortunate state governments either to cough up far more themselves or to reduce coverage.

然而,共和党人的建议对于削减医疗改革支出毫无实效。相反,在医疗补助项目方面,方案将负担转移到了各州政府身上;在医疗改革项目方面,方案将负担转移到了老年人个人身上。医疗补助项目将以“整笔补助金”的形式转移到各州政府,允许各州政府自行决断如何支配该项资金。但各州发放补助的大小并不与失控的医疗通胀挂钩,而是与更加稳定的基本物价水平挂钩。在十年内联邦政府预计开支将因此削减三分之一,在二十年内则削减一半;而不幸的各州政府要么被迫交出本不该交的资金,要么缩小医疗补助覆盖范围。

By the same token, under the Republicans’ plans for Medicare, the federal government would subsidise private health insurance for the elderly, instead of itself paying most of the cost of treating them directly to hospitals and doctors. Mr Ryan claims that the resulting competition among insurance firms would lower the overall cost of treatment. But the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office disagrees, arguing that private coverage tends to cost more than public, and that both would continue to suffer from cantering inflation. This would have a doubly pernicious effect for patients: not only would the overall cost of treatment rise, but so would the proportion of it they have to pay.

出于同样原因,在共和党人的医疗改革方案中,联邦政府将为老年人向私营医疗保险公司提供补贴,而不是政府直接出资,为老年人住院看病买单。瑞恩先生声称改革将使各保险公司相互竞争,从而降低治疗的总体费用。但无党派的国会预算办公室持不同意见,认为私营公司的支出将比公共支出还高,双方应继续忍受长期通货膨胀的折磨。这对病人来讲有双重恶性影响:不仅治疗的总体费用会上升,而且病人承担的比重也会增加。

Such measures would be devastatingly unpopular. In a poll last month by the Pew Research Centre, two-thirds of respondents opposed any changes to Medicare and Social Security. Republicans themselves made hay at the last election with the much more modest cuts the Democrats’ health-care reforms made to Medicare (remember “death panels”?). Democrats are returning the favour by depicting the Republican plan as the complete unravelling of America’s Great Society safety net. That is not so far from the mark: two-thirds of the proposed savings would come from programmes to help the poor, according to the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think-tank. Among the casualties of Mr Ryan’s axe would be Mr Obama’s health reforms, aimed at helping the uninsured get health cover.

这类措施定会受到民众的强烈反对。上个月Pew Research Centre 发布的一项民调显示,三分之二的受访者反对对医疗改革方案和社会保障制度做任何改变。共和党人在上次选举中充分抓住了机遇,提出了更为谨慎的削减支出方案,正如民主党人充分利用机会提出针对医疗改革的方案(还记得“死亡小组”吗?)。民主党回敬共和党称共和党人的方案目的是建立“完全分散”的美国大社会安全网络。这还并未偏离标准太远——根据智库预算和政策优先事项中心的数据,三分之二的预期收入将来源于旨在帮助穷人的项目。瑞恩先生改革大斧砍伤的将是奥巴马总统的医疗改革方案——该方案旨在为未加入医疗保险的人提供援助。

Mr Ryan’s plan also ignores the received wisdom in Washington that any grand deficit-reduction package will have to include bitter medicine for both parties, in the form of cuts to the entitlements particularly cherished by Democrats and revenue-raising measures that are anathema to Republicans. Instead, it would use the savings it would garner by eliminating many of the loopholes and exemptions in America’s tax code to pay for big tax cuts, not deficit reduction. These will mainly help the better-off.

瑞恩先生的方案也忽视了华盛顿政客们公认的看法,即任何大型的赤字削减一揽子计划都是让两党服苦药——削减民主党人尤为珍视的应得利益,采用共和党人深恶痛绝的增加收入之措。实际上,按照该方案,通过堵住美国税收制度的漏洞和取消众多免税权这两种方法增加的收入将用于为大型减税项目买单,而不是为削减赤字买单。这主要是肥了富人。

Indeed, the Ryan budget contains many affronts to Democrats, from repealing their prized health-care reform to instituting over the long run cuts to discretionary spending far deeper than those the Democrats are so doggedly resisting in the row about this year’s budget. So it will never get through the Senate, and if it did, it would be vetoed by Mr Obama.

实际上,瑞恩先生的预算暗含公开侮辱民主党之意,从废止民主党人引以为豪的医疗改革方案,到制定长期削减支出方案,再到大肆挥霍,莫不如是。民主党人挥霍严重程度远超民主党人承受程度——民主党人在本年度财政预算问题上一直强烈反抗大肆挥霍。所以该议案定遭参议院否决,如果确实通过,那奥巴马总统也会否决该议案。

Not all of Congress, however, has declared total partisan war. Three Democrats and three Republicans in the Senate, nicknamed the “Gang of Six”, continue to discuss a budget deal based on the magic formula of cutting spending on entitlements as well as discretionary items while raising revenue in the guise of tax reform. The letter the 64 senators sent to Mr Obama explicitly endorsed this approach, despite the flak the gang’s Republicans have received for so much as mentioning the idea of raising government revenue.

然而并不是国会所有成员都参加了这场党派之战。被昵称为“六人帮”的三位民主党人士和三位共和党人士仍在商讨预算方案,企图假借税制改革之外衣增加财政收入,同时削减津贴支出及自由支配项目支出。64位参议院致奥巴马总统的信明确支持此方法,尽管“六人帮”中的共和党人因提倡增加政府收入而遭到猛烈抨击。

Alas, there is no guarantee that their efforts will bear fruit. The rancour of the debate about this year’s budget has done little to calm tempers in Congress. Moreover, there are more nerve-racking deadlines to come. By May 16th at the latest, the Treasury says, America’s debt will have reached the limit set on it by Congress. Given the impossibility of erasing the deficit by then, the ceiling will have to be lifted. But many Republicans have said they will not do so unless Democrats endorse cuts of a much greater magnitude than the ones they were resisting this week. The fiscal melodrama has a few more weeks to run before its electrifying final act.

遗憾的是,他们的努力并并不一定会开花结果。因本年度财政预算进行的辩论引发的怨恨并未平息国会内的愤懑。此外,伤脑筋的截止日期接踵而至。财政部表示,最早到5月16日,美国的债务就可能达到国会设定的上限。到那时赤字仍无望消除,因此债务上限就不得不提高。但是诸多共和党人士表示他们不会这样做,除非民主党人支持的支出削减方案比本周共和党人所反对的方案幅度更大。在决案震撼出炉之前,这场财政闹剧还会持续几周。

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重点单词
  • formulan. 公式,配方,规则;代乳品 adj. (赛车的)级的
  • overalladj. 全部的,全体的,一切在内的 adv. 总的来说
  • melodraman. 音乐剧,通俗剧,传奇剧式的事件
  • embracev. 拥抱,包含,包围,接受,信奉 n. 拥抱
  • insurancen. 保险,保险费,安全措施
  • compromisen. 妥协,折衷,折衷案 vt. 妥协处理,危害 vi.
  • garnerv. 贮藏,积累,得到 n. 谷仓 Garner: 加纳
  • ceilingn. 天花板,上限
  • endorsevt. 支持,赞同,背书于
  • hammern. 锤,榔头 vi. 锤击,反复敲打 vt. 锤打,严