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How You'd Cut the Federal Deficit

You spoke up loud and clear. But is Washington listening?

especially targeting the pay and benefits of Capitol Hill lawmakers, who make $174,000.

Among the suggestions:

  • Deny the annual cost-of-living raises granted members of Congress by a 1989 federal law. (Actually, Congress beat them to it; last May, members overwhelmingly voted not to accept the 2011 increase, which would have amounted to $1,600.)
  • Cut their pay by as much as 50 percent, and slash or even eliminate their federal defined-benefits pension program. Retired members elected after 1984 who've served for at least 10 years receive, on average, about $36,000 a year. "They need to work for 30 years, just like the rest of us, then face the inevitable loss of those benefits, just like we are all are facing," one commenter said.
  • Ax their health insurance benefits. Like other federal employees, members of Congress can choose from such plans as Blue Cross and Kaiser, with the government paying up to 75 percent of the cost. "Make them 100 percent responsible for their health insurance premiums," one commenter said.

While these givebacks might have a certain sock-it-to-'em appeal, their fiscal impact would be small.

  • Cutting congressional paychecks in half would save only about $4.7 million a year. (By means of comparison, the chairman of Abbott Laboratories, the pharmaceutical giant, pulled down more than $25 million in 2010.)
  • Terminating pensions probably would save less than $25 million.
  • Eliminating health care coverage — assuming that all lawmakers opt for the most costly plan and that health care costs continue to increase in line with current projections — would reduce the budget deficit by only about $475,000.

2. Drastically cut defense spending

The budget calculator offered readers the option of reducing military spending by nearly $164 billion, to be achieved by reducing troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan and eliminating some weapons systems, among

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