The Daily Dish

Fiscal Promises

I get it: The track record of Congress (including Republicans) on federal spending is pretty dismal. I get it: Votes for leadership – especially the speaker – are an opportunity to make this point and so are votes on House rules. But I also don’t get it: Why can’t someone make a serious but realistic demand? Instead, the proposition on the table is to balance the budget in 10 years.

Here’s today’s key piece of arithmetic: Innumeracy and unrealism do not add up to equal fiscal discipline.

Did anyone do the math before rolling out this clunker? Using the most recent (May 2022) Congressional Budget Office baseline projections, balancing the primary (non-interest) deficit would mean cutting overall spending nearly 20 percent (17 percent, actually) below the current projected levels. Eliminating nearly one in every five dollars is a whole lot more than a little belt-tightening.

It would mean cutting the average annual growth of mandatory spending in half – from 4.0 percent to 2.1 percent. It would mean cutting the average annual growth of discretionary spending to 0.9 percent from 2.9 percent. Or, put more starkly, it would mean cutting $7.2 trillion out of mandatory spending over the next 10 years. That’s not in the realm of budgetary possibilities.

Why? Because it is not realistic to expect House members to run for re-election on the promise of cutting Social Security benefits by $2.9 trillion. It’s not realistic to return home for the August recess and expect plaudits for planning to cut Medicare reimbursements by $2.6 trillion and Medicaid by another $1.0 trillion.

It would be a good thing to commit to stabilizing the federal debt (measured relative to gross domestic product) and putting the ratio on a slight negative path. That wouldn’t require balancing the primary budget, but it would require serious reforms to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the remainder of the mandatory spending programs. It would be hard political work and it would require bipartisan negotiation leading to legislation. It would be the antithesis of promising to balance the budget in 10 years.

It is time to move from empty partisan budget rhetoric to real fiscal discipline.


Fact of the Day

Across all rulemakings this past week, agencies published $4.3 billion in total costs and added 2.8 million annual paperwork burden hours.

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