The national debt, budget deficit, federal budget, and congressional spending have all skyrocketed during the time that Donald Trump has been in office — just as they did when George Bush and Barack Obama were in office.
The national debt now exceeds $22 trillion. It is expected to reach $23 trillion by the end of 2019. The debt is a result of the government’s borrowing money so that it can continue to spend more than it collects in tax revenue. The budget deficit is now more than $1 trillion. Last fiscal year, the federal government paid $523,017,301,446.12 in interest on its debt.
Even worse is that the national debt doesn’t include the government’s “unfunded obligations” — money it doesn’t have, but has nevertheless promised to spend. Unfunded obligations have been estimated to be $13.9 trillion for Social Security and $42.3 trillion for Medicare. All told, every American is effectively on the hook for $240,000 worth of U.S. debt and obligations.
The federal budget is fast approaching $5 trillion annually. It wasn’t that long ago (1987) that the entire budget of the federal government was “only” a trillion dollars. It didn’t reach the $2 trillion mark until 2002.
Congressional spending is out of control. And looking back, it is clear that it makes no difference which of the two major political parties has a majority in the House, the Senate, or the entire Congress. The federal government now spends almost $8 million a minute.
But not to worry: Republicans have a plan. Republicans always have a plan.
This time it is the Maximizing America’s Prosperity Act of 2019, or MAP Act. It is designed “to cap noninterest Federal spending as a percentage of potential GDP to right-size the Government, grow the economy, and balance the budget.” This bill was introduced in the House (H.R.3930) by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) and in the Senate (S.2245) by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). There are fourteen co-sponsors in the House and two co-sponsors in the Senate — all Republicans.
The MAP Act would tie some federal spending to “potential GDP,” and would trigger automatic spending cuts to enforce the resulting spending limit should Congress fail to act. The spending cap would then be lowered each year. Beginning in fiscal year 2022, the total spending limit is 18.9 percent of potential GDP. The percentage falls every year until it reaches 17.5 percent in fiscal year 2031 and afterwards. Required spending cuts would be limited to a maximum of 5 percent of the overall budgets of affected programs.
Conservatives are suckers for worthless Republican plans to cut the deficit, balance the budget, rein in federal spending, pay down the national debt, and restrain congressional spending.
Writing for The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Romina Boccia — who focuses on federal spending and the national debt as director of the Grover M. Hermann Center for the federal budget at The Heritage Foundation — and Benjamin Paris — a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation — are “thankful” for the MAP ACT. It is “a strong and needed step forward” and “a promising plan to finally get a grip on federal spending.” Its “budget rules could help rein in high deficits and wasteful spending.” It “represents an important step toward recovering America’s fiscal health.”
The MAP Act is worthless because it addresses only one part of federal spending — and it is the smallest part. It exempts most of the largest federal programs from any automatic spending cuts or sequestration.
Aside from interest paid on the national debt, there are two kinds of federal spending: mandatory and discretionary.
Mandatory spending refers to the portion of the budget that Congress legislates outside the annual appropriations process. It accounts for about two-thirds of the federal budget. It includes spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, subsidies, student loans, food stamps, unemployment benefits, CHIP, SSI, federal retirement programs, and refundable tax credits. Some mandatory spending programs are in effect indefinitely (such as Social Security), but others (such as some agriculture programs) expire at the end of a given period.
Discretionary spending refers to the portion of the budget that is decided by Congress through the annual appropriations process. It accounts for about one-third of the federal budget. The majority of it is defense-related spending. What is left includes spending on education, NASA, foreign aid, job training, the FBI, Head Start, the EPA, transportation, research grants, public housing, and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.
The MAP Act is worthless because, even if it were actually enacted, Republicans would never allow their favorite part of the federal budget — defense spending — to be cut by a penny. Conservative Romina Boccia says elsewhere that “shrinking the national debt would do a world of good for the country” because “it would allow us to ensure a strong national defense in the face of rising global threats.” What she means is that it would allow the government to raise defense spending — something that makes most conservatives salivate. The Heritage Foundation has long sought for defense spending to be at least 4 percent of GDP — making defense spending a function of economic growth, not actual threats to the nation’s security and strategies for defending against them.
The MAP Act is not only worthless, it is also totally unnecessary. All Congress has to do to cut spending is to — cut spending. If the federal government even loosely limited spending to only that which is authorized by the Constitution, thousands of federal agencies, bureaus, departments, corporations, boards, offices, authorities, and administrations wouldn’t just have their budgets cut, they would be eliminated in their entirety. That means that every part of the departments of Education, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Energy and every last employment position in them would be completely eliminated. It means that all spending on foreign aid, the drug war, welfare, grants, and subsidies would be permanently ended.
Republicans in Congress don’t need any more plans or programs to make it look as though they are interested in cutting the deficit, balancing the budget, reining in federal spending, or paying down the national debt. They have a blueprint in the Constitution. They just need to follow it.