You can breathe now - the elections are over. The Republicans took back a majority in the House of Representatives while the Democrats maintained their majority in the Senate, despite losing several seats.
Touted by conservatives as a referendum on the president's ambitiously liberal policies, the results are more likely due to frustration over the unemployment rate near 10 percent and a long recession we've yet to see significant recovery from.
The Republicans promise to stimulate growth by extending the Bush administration's tax cuts for everyone, and reducing government spending. They talk about the dangers of our debt, currently projected by the Obama administration to be at 100 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2012.
It's easy to complain when the other guys are in charge, but now the Republicans have the power to actually implement their solutions. It's still Obama's agenda, but every revenue bill originates in the House, so the Republicans have a firm foothold in our fiscal policy.
Will they keep their promises? Are they serious about cutting spending and reducing our debt? I doubt it.
Numbers from the 2009 Federal Budget Report shows how limited the GOP's budget change will be.
Defense amounts to about 23 percent of our budget, and Republicans have been clear about the need to maintain military spending. The Republican National Committee website, gop.com, describes its position on defense as Reagan's "peace through strength" philosophy, with no mention of changing our defense spending, which is more than eight times that of any other country on Earth.
Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid make up another 39 percent of our budget, and their costs are projected to increase as the Baby Boomer generation retires. The AARP is arguably the strongest lobbying group in the country, and it'll fight hard against any cuts in benefits for seniors.
Even Tea Party favorites like Rand Paul object to any reforms affecting those who currently receive the benefits of those programs or are about to. These programs need reform, but most Republicans avoid suggesting that they would have their funding cut, or services reduced.
Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been chosen to chair the House Budget Committee because of his aggressive policy "Roadmap for America's Future" which includes significant changes to all of these programs, as well as a restructuring of the tax system. He's earned praise from his party for his efforts to fix our debt problem, yet only 13 of 178 House Republicans, prior to the Nov. 2 elections, had co-sponsored the plan, according to Paul Neuberger of examiner.com.
Another 17 percent of our budget is considered "Mandatory Spending," meaning that existing laws require they be paid for, so they represent another hard battle for reformers.
Programs in this 17 percent include subsidies for school lunches, food stamps and farm crop insurance, so cuts in spending would have clear losers but no clear winners.
There doesn't seem to be enough political will to impose significant cost-cutting measures on many or any of these programs. There is a disproportionate lobbying incentive for those fighting to maintain these programs over those who would benefit from their alteration.
What's left is interest payments on our debt, which can't be reduced without further raising the debt, and then a measly 12 percent on discretionary spending. Discretionary includes funding for public universities like JMU, public works programs and research grants. Cuts in this area could happen, but they won't be enough to help our debt problem, and it only takes one disaster like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina to spur spending that would offset cuts.
What spending do the Republicans actually intend to cut, besides potentially refusing to fund parts of Obamacare?
They haven't said.
How do they expect to fight the debt while holding down taxes for all, as Social Security and Medicare costs rise?