Yes, I know the headline is oft repeated. Perhaps it is because it captures a bit of wisdom. But, let me go from the personal to the public — America’s taxpayers. Plus, we should include those persons who depend on a wide range of government payments.
Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives in November. Their thin majority and disputatious Members have been the focus of much reporting about the resulting divided government. Let me suggest that is keeping our collective eye on the halftime entertainment, not the game. And, in politics the cleverest politicians are good at turning ball games into shell games.
The ball, or pea under the shell, is in the House of Representatives and it is public finance, specifically spending. The House, and only the House, can originate revenue bills and one area of universal agreement is that we are spending more than our will to generate offsetting tax revenue. And we are now just past the eve of a $2 trillion spending gusher legislated last year.
President Biden has said he will not negotiate spending bills in the context of setting a debt ceiling. Without a new and much increased debt ceiling our government will be unable to pay all of its obligations. That outcome of course is not acceptable, thus both high and low drama.
Now I could get into the arcana but readers would quickly skip ahead to whatever is next. So let me simply say that the media should sharpen its focus on the deepening debt and how/when it will be resolved. The Congressional Budget Office has a relatively good reputation; they should be the scorekeeper.
It is easy to shine a spotlight on Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz; they are buffoons and worse but as we all know the government is a three-ring circus and if the principal spotlight is on several clowns in one branch the intricacy of the acrobatic acts is missing.
Discretionary spending in the 2022 budget was $131.8 billion and 5% of that is $6.6 billion. That would be my targeted reduction in spending and it should be evenly spread across the entire spectrum of discretionary spending. Inevitably it will be said by those who advocate the status quo or budget growth that 5% is too deep a cut in particular programs. The advocates should introduce specific bills for increases in discrete programs and those should be voted on one at a time.
And remember that in 2022 mandatory spending was $1.5 trillion. The House majority should project within a given number of years a balanced budget including both discretionary and mandatory spending. And if cuts and GDP growth cannot balance our accounts over a reasonable period of time, then further cost reductions and/or tax increases should become a part of the budget.
I repeat: the ultimate problem is we are spending more than we are willing to underwrite with revenue bills. President Biden can see his legacy as programs but it is also about spending. If his legacy includes irreparable damage to the dollar’s value and our international credit worthiness, history will pair him with Herbert Hoover.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.