Red Ink, by David Wessel

There are a lot of misleading “facts” about the Federal deficit. It always amazes me how uninformed people are about how our taxes are spent. Or who pays how much in tax. In an era of bumper sticker slogans, it’s hard to really get the truth.

That’s why David Wessel, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, wrote Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget. Wessel sticks with the facts, however unpopular or counterintuitive they might be. There are times where his personal opinion might slip through in the form of what he values, but he never lets that get in the way of what the facts actually are.

For instance, Wessel gives us facts about what it costs to maintain one aircraft carrier. And that we spend 20% of our national budget on defense (more than nearly all other nations combined). He points out that the budget busting issue is the health care costs contained within the Federal budget (medicare and medicaid, for instance). He studies what percent the average American pays in taxes today (one of the lowest rates in the last 75+ years) and how this is the result of an attempt to starve the beast of Federal spending. He looks at the huge number of subsidies provided, as well as the impossibly long number of tax deductions we can get.

In short, Wessel does a good non-partisan job of simplifying the challenges we face and identifying the areas that are causing the biggest issues. Whatever you think about how we should fix the deficit (more taxes or less spending), you should at least have the right facts to support your position. The great thing about this book is that it provides those facts for both sides. Once we can all agree on the realities, we can then have a conversation about our values. To put it in polite terms, some value a government that is caring and supportive, some value a small less intrusive government. The challenge we face now is that neither side is using all the facts but instead spinning information to suit their narrative.

As a citizen, I find that insulting. That’s why I appreciate books like this. It helps me understand where my Tea Party family member is coming from as I also appreciate my other family member who is part of the teachers union. Both have some valid points that need to be made, but sometimes neither appreciates the truth of the situation.

Read this book. Learn from it. Then make your decisions about what to do about our budget mess.