USA Today Congress Can't Escape Reality 4/28/11 By Max Richtman, Executive Vice-President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Don't we all yearn for the days when we could fill our tanks for less than $50 and pay for prescriptions that didn't cost as much as a nice dinner out? As much as Americans might like to stop spending so much on life's essentials, we just don't have the option of telling our banker, "Sorry, I've capped my mortgage spending this year. I'm sure you'll understand. I have to make some tough budget choices." Similarly, we hear a lot of talk in Washington about making tough budget choices. The problem is that creating arbitrary federal budget caps and deficit triggers is nothing more than an old ploy to slash popular programs without leaving fingerprints.Doing so based on flawed formulas yields unintended consequences for millions of middle-class Americans and provides Congress with an escape route from the hard choices it should address. Rather than tackling the root causes of our federal debt, spending caps put our budgeting on autopilot, allowing Washington to claim credit for "being tough" now and watching from a distance later when across-the-board-cuts slash seniors programs, veterans programs and more. Setting spending levels to match yesteryears' averages ignores today's reality: huge increases in the cost of health care, the creation of the Part D drug benefit, increased homeland security spending in the post-9/11 era, multiple unfunded wars, an aging America and historically low tax levels. Pretending today's America is yesterday's America is risky business. If cutting trillions of dollars from vital programs serving middle-class Americans while maintaining tax cuts benefiting the wealthiest is Congress' plan for our future, then our senators and representatives should come to the American people and make that case. Poll after poll shows that Americans of all political persuasions understand the importance of programs vital to their survival and expect a balanced approach. They've expressed those views in town hall meetings throughout the past week. Implementing arbitrary across-the-board spending cuts based on our past and not our present isn't fiscal responsibility. It's an abdication of that responsibility. Time traveling is still science fiction, especially when used as a federal budget strategy. Max Richtman is executive vice president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.