The infamous criminal Willie Sutton supposedly said he robbed banks “Because that’s where the money is.” True or not, the answer got to the heart of the motivation for bank robbery.
The United State Congress, primarily the U.S. House of Representatives, is engaged in a bitter budget dispute. If no agreement is reached by the start of the new federal fiscal year October 1, federal government services will be disrupted and hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed without pay.
A handful of far right Republicans in the House are clogging up the budget process. They say they are trying to rein in spending further than the bipartisan budget agreement reached earlier this year. It is also likely these same Republicans are using their budget leverage to force out Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
The politics are intriguing, and a shutdown will trigger lots of speculation about who gets the blame and what the political fallout will be. But let’s get back to where the money is… and is not.
The deeper cuts the Republicans want are in the category of discretionary spending. The Washington Post reports the conservatives want to return to 2022 levels, and that would mean “cutting more than $100 billion from agency budgets.”
That’s not nothing, but discretionary spending makes up only about one-sixth of the federal budget. “The government’s biggest annual expense, though, and the main projected drivers of U.S. debt are the entitlement programs Medicare and Social Security.”
Those popular social programs are off the table, as are the military, border enforcement and veterans’ benefits. “Republicans have also ruled out higher taxes as part of any deal to lower the deficit,” the Post reports.
So, here is the question: Can you really make government smaller by refusing to consider the biggest portions of government? The biggest spending occurs in areas that no politician wants to touch.
In fact, for example, politicians proudly tout that Social Security will not be impacted. President Biden said on September 14, “They (Republicans) want to raise the Social Security retirement age, which means a 13 percent cut in benefits for seniors who retire at 67.”
That sounds reassuring until you consider this report from the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: The Social Security retirement fund is scheduled to become insolvent by 2033. “In that year, annual benefits would be cut by $17,400 (or 23 percent) for a typical newly retired dual-income couple.”
The Fiscal Responsibility Act passed earlier this year reduces deficits by $1 to $2 trillion over the next ten years. Republicans and Democrats signed on to that deal, which is a healthy way to legislate. It is a start, and the only politically safe way to get spending under control is to do it in a bipartisan fashion, unlike the futile efforts of a handful of House Republicans.
But going forward, if Congress ever wants to get truly serious about the annual deficits and the debt, it will have to go where the money is.