The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Spending it forward

Politics | Where have all the fiscal conservatives gone?
by Harvest Prude
Posted 1/02/20, 05:33 pm

WASHINGTON—Since President Donald Trump took office, the federal budget deficit has jumped more than 50 percent and is expected to overtake $1 trillion in 2020. The total federal debt, meanwhile, has surpassed $23 trillion. Congress appears to be on a bipartisan trek toward government bankruptcy, and the latest federal budget does little to correct the course.

In 2012, then–Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who later served briefly as chief of staff for Trump, proclaimed the GOP platform represented “a party that is unified and dedicated to the most important issues of our day: getting the economy back on track and restoring fiscal responsibility.”

In 2016, the party platform contained fewer references to fiscal conservatism, but it still warned that “the [Obama] administration’s demands have focused on significantly expanding government spending and benefits for its preferred groups, paid for through loans that our children and grandchildren will have to pay. This is the path to bankrupting the next generation.”

More than three years later, programs like Social Security and Medicaid are fast approaching insolvency. Next year, Social Security might have to reach into its trust fund to pay out full benefits. It is expected to fail to pay the full value of its benefits by 2035, according to a report published earlier this year by the program’s trustees. Medicaid could reach insolvency even sooner—by 2026. At that point, the program will be able to pay just under 90 percent of its bills. In response to those factors, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a grim prediction that the national debt will rise to nearly 93 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product by 2029.

The mammoth spending plan for 2020, split into two “minibus” bills, amounts to $1.43 trillion. Suspending the debt ceiling for two years, the bipartisan legislation increases government funding by nearly $50 billion from the 2019 budget. The week before Christmas, the House passed the two bills—comprising more than 2,000 pages of text—less than 24 hours after they were introduced. The Senate followed suit. Some Republican senators, 23 in all, voted against it, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who called the bills “a fiscal dumpster fire.”

Congress and the White House balanced the budget during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton thanks to a variety of factors, including tax increases, spending cuts, and economic growth. Since then, other forces have made running into the red more expedient for politicians.

On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump pledged to eliminate the $19 trillion national debt over eight years. He also vowed to protect Social Security. In 2017, Republicans cut taxes and agreed to bust spending caps that the GOP pushed for in 2011. In April 2019, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, himself a fiscally conservative congressman during the Obama years, said the national debt “doesn’t seem to be holding us back from an economic standpoint.”

Alex Brill, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said the change in lawmakers’ posture toward the national debt and deficit “is less economic and more political. … It may be that everyone has gotten used to these budget deficits … but the economics of them are the same.”

According to a January Pew Research Center survey, only 48 percent of Americans said reducing the deficit should be a priority compared to 72 percent in 2013.

Brill said that during the Obama years, people justified borrowing on the basis that the deficits would be temporary until the economy recovered. When the economy recovered, “people started saying, oh, it’s OK to borrow a trillion dollars a year,” he said.

Justin Bogie, a senior policy analyst on fiscal affairs at the Heritage Foundation, said the booming economy has made people discount the effects of high debt and deficits.

“What we see now, with the stock market doing so well, unemployment so low, economy growing at a good pace—people have put this on the backburner,” he said.

Brill predicted big government spending would continue until public attitudes change: “It’s important to people, but it’s never important enough to people. They’d rather we not borrow a trillion a year, but they’re more concerned about judges or healthcare or the economy.”

Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Julián Castro

2020 update

So far, only five candidates have qualified for the Jan. 14 Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa. CNN and the Des Moines Register will host. The qualifiers include former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sens. Bernie Sanders of Maryland, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, the only Latino in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race, ended his campaign Thursday. He failed to qualify for recent debates and said he determined, “it simply isn’t our time.”

The Democratic National Committee has not yet released its requirements for the next three debates, scheduled for February in other early primary states. With each debate, the DNC has upped the requirements for poll standing and donations. To qualify for the January debate, candidates had to secure 225,000 donors and earn the support of 5 percent of voters in four national polls or 7 percent in two early state polls.

The DNC said it might reschedule the January debate if it ends up conflicting with the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. The qualifying senators would all have to attend the trial to participate as jurors. —H.P.

Associated Press/House Television Associated Press/House Television John Lewis on the House floor

Fighting for his life

WASHINGTON—U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., announced Sunday that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The 79-year-old said he plans to remain in office while undergoing treatment, adding that he’s “clear-eyed” about his prospects but hopes medical advances will give him “a fighting chance.”

Only 3 percent of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer live for more than five years after diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society. Lewis discovered his diagnosis after a routine medical appointment in December.

Known as a civil rights icon, Lewis has served in the House for 32 years. He was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement, an ally of Martin Luther King Jr., and the youngest person to speak at the 1963 March on Washington, where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis also had his skull broken by police officers during the march in Selma, Ala., known as Bloody Sunday and was arrested more than 40 times during his activism days.

“I’ve been in some kind of fight—for freedom, equality, basic human rights—for nearly my entire life,” Lewis said in announcing his diagnosis. “I have never faced a fight quite like this one.” —H.P. 


Read more of The Stew Sign up for The Stew email
Harvest Prude

Harvest is a political reporter for WORLD's Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate. Harvest resides in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @HarvestPrude.

Read more from this writer

Comments

You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • NEWS2ME
    Posted: Fri, 01/03/2020 11:59 am

    We spend BILLIONS on sanctuary cities, send BILLIONS to countries who hate us, and spend BILLIONS on various DC swamp demands. Meanwhile giving miniscule amounts of Social Security to people who can barely survive on Social Security now get to look forward to cuts in their Social Security? But Dems say we have plenty of cash for MEDICARE for all. And then you have a $200 deductible before they pay for your doctor. 

    Philanthropy to Americans means the DC swampmasters reach into American pockets and give to their favorite charities. And then give awards to each other for being so generous.

    For women looking forward to "retiring" on Social Security, just know that they take money out for taxes and BASIC Medicare. 

  • Allen Johnson
    Posted: Fri, 01/03/2020 01:41 pm

    A one-trillion dollar deficit spending is equivalent to almost $3000 per man, woman, child per year. Intergenerational theft as the present generation lives it up (some, not all), while the children will have to figure it out...or maybe they won't.

    And of course, the military-industrial complex gets its blood from both ends, the one being the American taxpayer or their children.  The military vampires get more than the next ten militaristic countries combined and we don't even have potent enemies anywhere close to our borders. Who will defend us from our own military?  Well, not likely many who purport to follow Jesus while they pledge their faith to the flag.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 01/03/2020 11:23 pm

    It is generally believed by uninformed citizens that defense spending gets the lion's share of the US budget, year in and year out.  The actual percentage of the US budget for defense is about 15%.  But that only tells part of the story.

    First, when you talk about government spending, there are a lot of social needs like education and healthcare, and infrastructure needs, like roads and water treatment, that are NOT met by US government spending.  Rather, those needs are met by STATE and LOCAL government spending.  For 2017, total budgets of all state and local governments was about 3.25 Trillion.  That is very close to the Federal budget, so Defense spending was actually about 8% of government spending.

    Second, there is one simple reason the US pays as much for defense as the next 7 or 10 nations combined.  (depending on the source where you get your information)  That reason is wages/standard of living.  When the US military buys a bullet or a bomber, the money is spent here in the US for workers who forge metal, compound chemicals, write computer code, and so forth.  All of that costs more than in China, Saudi Arabia, and India (the next 3 countries on the defense spending list) because workers in those countries are paid a LOT less, and do not live as well, as workers here in the US. 

    Then, to address Mr. Johnson's apparent belief that we can't justify having a large military when "we don't even have potent enemies anywhere close to our borders."  Well, sorry, but that kind of thinking became out-of-date around 80 years ago, with the development of the first German bomber that could reach US shores.  It has gotten only worse since then.  However, the bomber is no longer the premier threat.  We now have enemies who send young men to the US for the alleged purpose of learning to fly their own countries' airplanes, but who then kill US citizens here at home.  It's a different world.

    Perhaps Mr. Johnson would like to live in one of the most peaceful nations on earth, a nation that has not been involved in war since 1815: Switzerland.  The Swiss are rather determinedly neutral, and to ensure that, they do maintain a rather formidable armed force.  While we spend about $2000 per capita on defense, somehow the Swiss, despite having the forces necessary to make any invasion extremely costly for an enemy, spends only about $553 per capita annually.  How do they do that?  Well, every able citizen of Switzerland is a part of the Armed Forces for about 20 years of their life.  Young Swiss are drafted, trained, then go home.  With a weapon, ammunition, and field gear.  They take part in annual training and are expected to maintain their military skills and respond, armed, to a call-up in a national emergency. Thus the Swiss have one of the largest armed forces in the world, in terms of percentage of population.  Quite the commitment, and probably not at all palatable to Mr. Johnson. 

  • NEWS2ME
    Posted: Sat, 01/04/2020 07:46 pm

    Very interesting, Old Mike. Thank you for that info.

ADVERTISEMENT