Everyone knows how to stay healthy.
Yet we don’t like carrots and kale. We forget our Centrum. We go to happy hour with friends after work and skip the cardio class.
This is human nature. Who wouldn’t rather eat goodies then pound away a few hours at the gym?
So, is it any surprise the federal debt and deficit is exploding?
The psychology is really the same.
The public doesn’t like to hear about burgeoning debt. People certainly lecture Washington about profligate spending. There’s renewed worry about the federal deficit amid signals of a potential economic slowdown. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the new fiscal blueprint lawmakers okayed earlier this summer could spike the deficit by $800 billion over the next decade. Few on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue have the will to make meaningful spending cuts.
Let’s face it: the deficit is up because Congress and Presidents of both parties like to spend. But frankly, most Americans like spending too.
The Congressional Budget Office revised its economic outlook after Congress voted to terminate old spending limitations. Those strictures kept some federal expenditures in check. President Trump went along with the plan.
“The nation’s fiscal outlook is challenging,” said Congressional Budget Office Director Philip Swagel.
There’s now a chasm between what the government takes in and what it spends. Swagel said the difference is now at “the highest level just after World War II.”
Despite President Trump’s support, only 65 House Republicans supported the budget measure. A scant 29 Senate Republicans voted yea there. Mr. Trump signed the package into law.
“Can you hear it?” asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on the Senate floor a few weeks ago as the Senate prepared to consider the budget accord. “It’s a dirge. A funeral march. It’s the death of a movement. A once-proud movement with hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall. It's the death. It’s the last gasp of a movement in America that was concerned with our national debt. Today is the final nail in the coffin. The tea party is no more."
The tea party energized Republicans in 2010. It helped flip control of the House of Representatives in one of the most-epic, landslide victories in American politics. The result was a repudiation of the “big spending” policies of Democrats. Tea party loyalists targeted passage of Obamacare and the $700 billion stimulus package after the economic calamity of 2008.
This followed approval of a bipartisan $700 billion fiscal rescue measure in the fall of 2008. Plus, there were multiple, massive spending measures to fight the war on terrorism and fund military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those came on the watches of a mostly-GOP controlled Congress and President George W. Bush.
The point is that both parties like to spend. Republicans seemed to get religion with fiscal discipline, via the tea party, when it was politically advantageous to pillory President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Paul called out his GOP brethren for this hypocrisy.
“So Democrats don't care. The country should know that. Democrats do not care about the debt. But here is the problem. The only opposition party we have in the country is the Republican Party, and they don't care either,” said Paul.
There are two types of federal spending: “Mandatory” and “discretionary.”
For every dollar of federal spending, about 70 cents immediately goes toward the mandatory side of the ledger. It’s called “mandatory” because Congress put entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security on automatic pilot decades ago. Congress doesn’t approve any money for those programs. The funds just “mandatorily” float out of the federal coffers.
This is where the public finds itself in conflict. People know to diet and eat right. But they just can’t turn down a slab of birthday cake slathered with buttercream icing.
No lawmaker from either party wants to touch those entitlements, because, well, the public likes that spending. The public sends a mixed message: slash spending. But don’t harm benefits – even if entitlements are responsible for most of the national debt.
Seventy cents of every federal dollar goes for entitlements. The remaining 30 cents is allocated for “discretionary” spending. In other words, Congress has “discretion” to approve that money each year. Defense is the biggest chunk of discretionary spending Of the remaining 30 cents of each federal dollar, about 16 cents goes to the military. Some Democrats and a handful of Republicans would like to cut Pentagon expenditures. But the military would still consume a substantial portion of the discretionary pie. So, entitlements and the Pentagon consume about 86 cents of every federal dollar.
Then, throw in money for the Department of Veterans Affairs and a spending line called “Military Construction.” Nobody wants to cut the VA. So, if you couple the appropriations bill known on Capitol Hill as “MilCon/VA” with the annual Pentagon spending bill, 88 cents of each federal dollar is untouchable. That leaves only the remaining 12 cents as a potential place to cut. That final 12 cents funds everything from the State Department to the Department of Interior. It funds Congress. Homeland Security.
If policymakers really wanted to make an impact on the debt, they’d mine entitlements and defense spending for cuts. Eliminating programs from the 12 cents is the equivalent of a ding in the fender when there’s an 18 car pileup on the freeway.
Entitlements, and, to a much lesser degree, the military, are the biggest contributors to the national debt. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) says lawmakers are loathed to cut from either.
“Those are so toxic to talk about. Everyone doesn’t want to talk about it,” said Lankford.
There is also some chatter about the impact of the GOP tax cut law on the debt. The Congressional Budget Office said the GOP tax cut bill would increase the deficit slightly over the next decade. But one of the main pitches Republicans made in favor of the tax cut is that it would stimulate the economy – perhaps by as much as four percent or more. As a result, the tax cut would “pay for itself.” That would help reduce the gap between revenues and expenditures.
“This grows the economy,” argued former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in late 2017.
“It’s deficit-neutral,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) when asked about the tax law on Fox Business.
In a defense of the tax law, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee assert the problem is “spending, not revenues” when it came to the deficit. GOPers note that income and payroll taxes are up, even if corporate receipts were off earlier in the summer. That’s what compelled Congress to lift the debt ceiling.
So spending is higher. But tax cut law proponents certainly haven’t witnessed the level of economic growth they hoped to help harness the deficit.
Presidential administrations of both parties like to spend. Liberals and conservatives on Capitol Hill like to spend. And even though they don’t like to admit it, most Americans like the government to spend.
Everyone knows they should eat their veggies and build up a sweat at the gym. But that slab or rhubarb pie with a side of French vanilla ice cream is just too enticing.