Do the politicians in Washington really think we are that dumb?
For the past three weeks (except for the week Congress took off and the president went to Brazil), the House, the Senate and the president have been waging a battle royal over whether to cut spending for this year by roughly $30 billion or $61 billion. The maneuvering continues this week, with the threat of a dreaded government shutdown looming on Friday if they fail to reach an agreement of some sort.
Are they serious? We have a $1.3 TRILLION deficit for this year alone — and the folks in D.C. are going to shut down the national parks because they can’t agree over a lousy $30 billion in cuts. That’s right; the drama we are watching this week, complete with hourly sound-bite skirmishes and White House meetings, is over less than 1% of the federal budget.
The clock is running down in the fourth quarter to avoid an economic meltdown, we need to go the whole length of the field, and our elected leaders are haggling over whether to advance the ball one yard or two.
Forget that silliness. The battle royal needs to be about cutting $1.3 trillion, not rounding errors or symbolic “down payments.”
Don’t get me wrong. I would rather cut $61 billion than $30 billion, if those are the options. However, the far greater imperative today is to get past this near-term posturing and get about the task of actually producing a balanced budget — not ten years from now or five years, but NOW.
The good news? While the news media and the professional Washington scorekeepers are fixated on this week’s largely irrelevant squabble, there are some serious proposals on the table for actually doing what needs to be done. The House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, has a plan to cut $6 trillion over ten years, and others, including me, have shown how hundreds of billions could be cut now without ending Western civilization as we know it.
In fact, I would suggest that the future of Western civilization as we know it actually depends on our shifting the debate — today — from tens of billions to hundreds of billions and, in fact, trillions. That means eliminating entire programs and departments, not just nibbling at their budgets. And absolutely, it means taking a sharp pencil to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which, along with interest on the debt, will consume the entire federal budget in a few short years.
Grabbing headlines by taking a few million dollars out of NPR or cutting travel budgets might make the D.C. crowd feel better, but it doesn’t do much for the American people, whose homes, jobs and futures are in serious peril because of unsustainable federal spending and its crushing effect on the economy.
Last November, the voters turned Congress on its end in a clear demand that Washington get its fiscal house in order. I am pretty sure they had something more substantial in mind than a business-as-usual parlor game over less than 1% of the budget.
Gary Johnson is the honorary chairman of the OUR America Initiative, a 501(c)(4) advocacy committee. He is also the former Republican Governor of New Mexico (1994-2002), and has been a consistent and outspoken advocate for efficient government and lowering taxes.