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Propose Some Real Deficit Reduction (or shut up)

Updated on July 20, 2017

Give me Some Real Numbers

As I was driving to work this morning listening to “Morning Edition” on NPR, there was a short interview with a Republican member of the House who had some misgivings about the latest budget proposal. As a member of the Freedom Caucus, his main objection was that it did not include significant enough budget cuts. The interviewer then asked him the obvious question: what budget cuts did he want to make? The congressman then talked about reducing spending on cash assistance programs (like food stamps) by requiring “able-bodied” Americans to work, which would then reduce the number of people collecting “welfare” and have the added benefit of stimulating economic growth by increasing the size of the labor force.

I can definitely see the congressman’s point. “Able-bodied” Americans should be working if possible rather than collecting assistance from the government. But if I were the journalist giving that interview, I would have asked a second obvious question: how much money would your cut in cash assistance spending actually save? The federal government spends about $70 billion a year on food stamps, so even if you cut the program in half, that would be $35 billion of a $4 trillion budget and a roughly $700 billion annual deficit. So if you want to balance the budget purely by cuts, it is going to take a hell of a lot more than that. It will take more than just cutting programs for poor people.

As a quick glance at a federal budget chart shows, most federal spending goes to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and defense. In spite of this obvious fact, rarely do you hear politicians on either side of the aisle making specific proposals about reining in spending in these areas. Say what you want about recent GOP health care proposals, they would at least have some impact on Medicaid spending. But when combined with the tax cuts that were also part of these proposals, the deficit reduction would still be a pittance in the big scheme of things. And the public’s reaction to the GOP health care plans, along with the unwillingness of moderate Republican senators to support them, demonstrates why politicians are generally unwilling to take away benefits after the public has gotten used to them.

Personally, I am tired of listening to politicians over the past few decades complaining about budget deficits but not providing any significant, tangible ways of reducing them. The only time that Democrats and Republicans seem to care about deficits is when the other party is in power. Maybe they should all just sit down and agree that the only way to cut the deficit significantly is through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Or, they could save themselves a lot of political pain and agree that a deficit to GDP ratio of 2.6% is easily manageable (particularly with interest rates as low as they are). They will then have plenty of time to argue about all of the other important issues that they rarely seem to do much of anything about.

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