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We spend 88 percent of our federal budget on defense, the Veterans Administration, Social Security, Medicare, the portion of Medicaid for senior citizens in nursing homes and the payment on the debt.

The debt arises primarily because we do not collect enough taxes to pay for defense, Social Security and medical care for the elderly. We only collect 62 cents in taxes for every dollar we spend. Fifty cents of every dollar in federal program benefits is spent on people 65 and older and they have earned their benefits.

First, defense is a necessity but we maintain hundreds of military bases in foreign nations. These bases allow us to forward position our military and respond to threats globally. They also represent about 30 percent of our defense budget. At best we are only paid 25 percent of the costs for those bases by the host countries, even if they are a NATO ally. Some host nations pay little to nothing. All of our foreign bases are a cash cow to their host nation.

We cannot afford to be the global policemen indefinitely without reasonable compensation. The world has changed greatly in the last 60 years. Many parts of Europe and Asia are no longer destitute. Some of our NATO partners now have a higher median income and standard of living that the United States. As Defense Secretary Gates stated to our NATO allies, the time for America covering more than 75 percent of the coalition’s defense spending is over. If host countries refuse to pay their fair share for these bases, we should close those first before we ever consider closing or reducing a U.S. military base such as the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

Secondly, Social Security taxes have an income cap of $110,000 so the wealthy contribute very little of their incomes to it. Although many have suggested elevating the qualifying age for benefits, this is very optimistic when you consider the fact that so many of our unemployed are in their 50s and 60s right now. Another issue is health and physical capability, which many jobs such as law enforcement, emergency services, construction and manual labor employment require.

The best solution is raising the income cap. Raising the cap to $250,000 would make Social Security solvent to about 2050. Removing all income limits on Social Security contributions would greatly help to make it solvent indefinitely.

Third, perhaps 30 percent of all our medical costs are wasted in terms of duplicate and unnecessary testing. Electronic databases could eliminate duplicate tests. Risk-based analysis could eliminate much of the unnecessary tests. Currently, about 25 percent of Medicare costs are spent in the last month of a patient’s life. Better preventive care and patient compliance with physician’s instructions, medication, stress reduction, diet and exercise could reduce much of the acute care currently being utilized while improving the quality and longevity of life.

Joe Belanger, Leonardtown