By Jason Lewis
The Pioneer Press
I didn’t come to Washington to bide time or to play fast and loose with other people’s money — something the big spenders do to buy votes. I ran for Congress to do something meaningful, to spend my energies wisely and get our fiscal house in order.
The reason is relatively simple: Servicing a $20 trillion debt threatens to bankrupt the United States, and in the process, the future of our children. Projections from the Government Accountability Office show that, absent policy changes, the debt-to-GDP ratio will easily surpass its historical high of 106 percent in the very near future.
Indeed, interest payments are now set to total $768 billion per year and will skyrocket to over $1 trillion should artificially low interest rates return to their post-WWII norm.
But the knee-jerk reaction to raise taxes is not the answer. Last year the federal government collected a record $3.26 trillion — that’s $3,260,000,000,000 — yet still incurred a $587 billion deficit. Even doubling the tax burden of the top 1 percent of income earners wouldn’t eliminate our annual deficit.
Besides, our income taxes are already the most “progressive” among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, and corporate levies are the highest in the industrialized world — so make no mistake, any ruse to raise taxes will end up soaking the middle class.
That’s why we put tax reform in the budget blueprint to be voted on this week. Without growth we won’t solve our debt crisis; and the current tax code’s deterrent to work, savings and investment has already given us an economy stuck in low gear — yet to hit the post-WWII average of 3.3 percent annual growth in the last decade.
The problem is spending.
So for the first time in decades, this year’s Budget Resolution directs Congress to address the main driver of our woeful federal fisc — mandatory or non-discretionary spending.
As the nearby chart clearly shows, if nothing is done to control the costs of entitlements, they will swallow the federal budget whole. The Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget finally addresses this by adding work requirements to mandatory welfare programs (such as SNAP’s food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — TANF); advancing medical malpractice and federal land reforms — and yes, finally tackling the unsustainable growth of Medicaid.
In the wake of Obamacare’s expansion of the $500 billion Medicaid program, it now constitutes the nation’s fastest growing entitlement. Moreover, by agreeing to finance 90 percent of the cost of covering able-bodied childless adults under the Affordable Care Act expansion, the system — originally designed for the blind, the disabled and poor children — has simply been flooded with more people than taxpayers can handle.
Coupling reasonable per-capita limits on Medicaid — first proposed by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, when program costs were about a third of what they are today — with state flexibility finally puts the program on much sounder footing for those it was intended to serve.
Of course, finally addressing the part of the budget on auto-pilot is no excuse to let profligate discretionary spending off the hook. When it comes to avoiding an American sovereign debt crisis, everyone should do their part. And that means genuine “shared sacrifice” by rising above party politics and scrutinizing some sacred cows of your own.
That’s why I’ve introduced H.R. 2040, the Defense Spending Accountability Act, which requires the Pentagon to finally audit its books. Since 1995, the Defense Department has been on the GAO’s “high risk list” for deficiencies in their financial management. Yet in a report released earlier this year, the agency found the DOD budgetary schedules are so disorganized that they cannot be properly audited.
No doubt there are legitimate reasons for rebuilding our military, which I support — but in a defense department with an astonishing 800,000 civilian employees, we must all recognize the difference between spending for readiness and simply spending.
After all, it was Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who declared “the most significant threat to our national security is our debt.”
The Congress should restore some fiscal sanity by embracing reform of both our tax code and the federal budget. In fact, long overdue constraints on spending and incentives for economic growth may be our last, best hope for re-establishing a vanishing American Dream for the next generation.