Charlie Hutson was a good friend and leader

Friday, December 19, 2003

Charles Hutson was not only the dreamer and doer of Main Street, but he also was one of the backbones (and beloved characters) of Cape Girardeau.

Among his many accomplishments, he was a deacon in his church, a former president of the Southeast Missouri State University Foundation, an active Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce and economic development leader and a former president of the Southeast Missouri Hospital Board of Trustees.

He also was a proud husband, father, collector, businessman and friend of many. He was a booster of the lighting project for the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, which he'll only see from above, though his spirit will walk amongst those of us who knew him.

But one of Charlie's lasting legacies to me was the way he handled his battle with cancer, which covered years of pain and attitude challenges.

He knew the challenge and odds. With good humor and openness, he confronted the coming shortening of his full life.

So long, "Huts." There is no one to replace you. But thanks for the life you shared. You brought leadership and fun to so many of us.

Steve Forbes of Forbes Magazine and former presidential candidate, in a long comment in his Dec. 22 column, discussed the Medicare drug benefit bill by saying there was "big good in a bad bill." He observes:

"There's actually a boon in the otherwise Medicare-drug-benefit boondoggle: Health savings accounts. HSAs may well be the salvation of our increasingly dysfunctional health care system.

"The problem with American medicine is in the way we finance it -- almost all of it through third parties, primarily insurance companies and the government. In any market when there is a disconnect between the provider and the customer, bad thing happen. Just look at the old Soviet Union. Or, closer to home, today's public education system. Markets function best when customers control the purse strings. In health care, alas, that's a rarity.

"The new HSAs are better, more flexible, more patient-friendly than the IRS version. HSAs are owned by the individual, not the company. HSAs are portable. If you leave a company, the account goes with you; and you can use the money in it to either buy new insurance or to pay for COBRA. Up to $2,600 a year can go into an individual's HSA ... all tax-free. Both employers and individuals can contribute to an individual's HSA. HSA monies can be used for the purchase of long-term-care insurance, which will be a huge benefit to ever older baby boomers. HSA funds also can be passed on in an individual's estate.

"HSAs will help reduce the number of uninsured people. Health policies are vastly more affordable when there is a high deductible. The self-employed will find HSAs a godsend."

The recently passed health bill and the deficit have been criticized by both conservatives and liberals. I found the following column in The Wall Street Journal by Joshua Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, interesting:

We can cut the deficit in half: President Bush has resolutely pursued three top priorities: winning the war on terror, protecting the homeland and strengthening the economy. While rarely challenging these goals, some commentators now suggest that, in their pursuit, the administration has unwisely neglected deficit reduction and fiscal discipline. From the left, the president's tax cuts are blamed for driving the federal budget into deficit. From the right, the president is criticized for acquiescing in a congressional domestic spending spree. Neither charge stands up to scrutiny.

First, to trace the roots of today's deficits, recall the circumstances the country faced in the early months of this administration: President Bush took office with a stock market in collapse and an economy entering recession; he was soon to confront as well the revelation of corporate scandals and, of course, terrorism on American soil. The resulting economic "perfect storm," which dramatically drove down Treasury receipts, is by far the largest reason we face budget deficits today. Had there not been one dime of tax relief under President Bush, the federal budget would still have run a substantial deficit in 2003.

In fact, the president's tax cuts have been critical to his priority of strengthening the economy and creating jobs. Perhaps the best timed in American history, these tax cuts deserve much credit for today's brightening economic picture: the highest quarterly growth in 20 years (8.2 percent), which, though unlikely to remain as high, is a harbinger of sustained growth to come; extraordinary productivity growth; continued strength in housing starts and retail sales; and encouraging signs of renewed business investment. These indicators suggest that job growth, which typically lags recovery, should continue to strengthen in the months ahead. And sustained growth will be good news for our budget picture as well: As the economy improves, Treasury revenues will too -- budget deficits, now projected to peak in this fiscal year, will decline.

Second, as to the president's spending policies, what the record shows is a commitment to national security -- and restraint elsewhere. Most critics of the president's fiscal record begin by saying they support the additional spending that has been necessary to respond to 9/11 and the global war on terror, but they then proceed to complain about spending levels that are largely made up of those costs. It is true that discretionary spending (the spending over which the president and Congress have control through annual appropriations) has risen substantially in the three most recent budget years. But more than three-quarters of that increase has been directly related to our response to 9/11, enhanced homeland security and the global war on terror.

The increases in all other discretionary accounts have been modest by historical standards. In the last budget year of the previous administration (FY 2001), domestic spending unrelated to defense or homeland security grew by an eye-popping 15 percent. With the adoption of President Bush's first budget (FY 2002), that number was reduced to 6 percent; then 5 percent the following year; and now 3 percent for the current fiscal year. There is room for more restraint, especially as the economy recovers, but this is hardly the record of a domestic-program spending spree.

To those who lament that the president hasn't vetoed a single spending bill, the response is simple: He hasn't needed to. Recently concluded negotiations on the latest appropriations bills, for example, reflect effective presidential and congressional leadership. The president asked for, and the House has passed, a total increase in discretionary budget authority no larger than the growth in family income this year: 4 percent.

As in previous years, commentators of all stripes will doubtless find plenty to criticize in the latest appropriations spending priorities and policies. But a complaint that domestic spending has run amok in this year's appropriations bills is not supported by the numbers, which bear repeating: 3 percent growth in non-national-security related spending authority, and 4 percent growth in overall discretionary spending authority.

None of this is to suggest that our fiscal situation should not remain a matter of concern. With major expenditures in Iraq, and Treasury receipts only beginning to reflect a recovering economy, we still face a deficit in the $500 billion range for the current fiscal year -- larger than anyone wants. But that size deficit, at roughly 4.5 percent of GDP (compared with a modern peak of 6 percent during the Reagan years), is not historically out of range; and it is entirely manageable, if we continue the president's strong pro-growth economic policies and sound fiscal restraint. Indeed, with adoption of the president's policies, our projections show a solid path toward cutting the deficit in half, toward a size that is below 2 percent of GDP, within the next five years.

With renewed economic growth and Congress' cooperation in focusing spending on our most critical priorities, we can accomplish the great goals the president has set for the country while dramatically improving our budget situation.

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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