The Fat’s in the Fire

Joe Queenan read all 25,754 pages of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. One of the solutions he found? The Give Granny a Placebo Program would cut Medicaid costs by 30 percent.

May 24 2011 by Joe Queenan


The Fat's In the Fire

The Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan has drawn the usual catcalls. It will cut services. It will raise taxes. It will hurt the poor. Yet, as is always the case when an impartial bipartisan commission issues its recommendations on a dire national problem, none of the critics bothered to sit down and read the report itself. I went through all 25,754 pages this week, and I can honestly say that if Americans simply remain calm and consider some of the suggestions buried in the index, they will be floored by their ingenuity.

Take the Illegal Immigrant Licensing Fee. For many years, pro football fans simply paid the printed ticket price to attend a game. But a few years ago, desperate for revenue to build bigger stadiums, franchises began charging “ticket-holder licensing fees” of between $10,000 and $50,000.

The Commission thinks that a national licensing fee imposed on illegal immigrants would raise enough revenue to cut the federal deficit by $1 trillion. With upwards of 20 million illegals in the country, a one-time citizenship licensing fee of, say, $5,000 would allow illegal immigrants to stay and work in this country while stoking the U.S. economy, thereby creating even more jobs for illegals. “You want a front-row seat at the Cowboys game; you pay a licensing fee,” the Commission reasons. “You want a front-row view in the arena of democracy? You pay a licensing fee.”

A second brilliant suggestion is to tax the fat. The idea, a variation on a proposal by Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank, is to tax activities that are harmful to society. This could include polluting, smoking, driving while intoxicated, manslaughter or even performing “Captain Jack” in subway tunnels. But the single best way to reduce the deficit is to tax people for being fat.

“The recalcitrantly chunky put a huge strain on the national health care system,” the Commission notes. “By taxing the pudgy, the chubby, the tubby and perhaps even the pleasingly plump, the government would kill two birds with one stone: cut the deficit in half and use reverse social engineering to produce a thinner, healthier populace.”

Passing the hat is yet another worthy Commission proposal. At sunrise on January 1, 2012, a hat would be ceremonially passed from one American to the next seeking contributions to reduce the federal deficit. If the average American, generous to a fault, stuffed just $100 into the hat, it would slash the deficit by $35 billion.

Not all of the Commission’s suggestions are equally plausible. Seniors will bridle at the Give Granny a Placebo Program, which would cut Medicaid costs 30 percent by periodically feeding senior citizens harmless placebos instead of their usual meds. A one percent civic wage surtax on stoners, too wasted to notice, seems needlessly regressive, as does an excise tax on the dumb. Yet much is to be said for a national 50-50 raffle.

“The single biggest fundraising come-on is the 50-50 raffle,” the Commission reasons. “The deficit is $1.6 trillion. So with a 50-50 split—$800 billion to the winner, $800 billion to the government—everyone wins. We pass a 90 percent windfall tax on the winner, get rid of Amtrak, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the State Department and the National Endowment for the Arts, and this problem disappears forever.”