Looking ahead to the new year, there seems to be little hope for government fiscal responsibility. The Trump administration may have cut your taxes, regulations may be flying off the Federal Register, but the size and scope of government spending is still ever-increasing.
In 2017, under Republican governance, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the fiscal deficit for 2017 was $668 billion — a whole $82 billion more than the FY 2016 deficit when President Obama was in office. Congress, for fear of a government shutdown, consented to pass Democrat budgets in April and in September. President Trump, despite threats to veto any budgets that did not fund his priorities, consented to sign both of them. The government grows bigger, spends more, and burdens future generations. There will be consequences.
As deficits continue and the national debt grows, the government’s budget will become consumed by larger and larger interest payments. The CBO estimates that these interest payments will become 21 percent of the federal budget by 2047. That leaves less money for the defense of the United States and for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — the other budget-busters. It also means that the laws of economic reality will force Congress to raise taxes, soaking money out of the private sector, moving those resources away from individuals who can make them increase and instead paying back the black-hole debt incurred by the lavish and unprofitable spending of a generation that will by then be long dead.
In fact, by 2047, the national debt is forecast to be 150 percent bigger than the all of the wealth created in America. It will never be paid back. There will not be enough wealth in America to pay it back.
Some recognize that this cannot continue. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., to his credit, is pushing for Republicans to reform the nation’s welfare and entitlement programs — which are the largest drivers of the debt — as part of a larger 2018 agenda. Ryan has promised votes in the House on deficit reduction measures, which may include work requirements for food stamps and changes to Medicaid’s structure to cut costs. “We have to address entitlements, otherwise we can’t really get a handle on our future debt,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s counterpart Republican leader in the Senate, however, warns that without Democrats on board, entitlement reform is likely a pipe dream. “The sensitivity of entitlements is such that you almost have to have a bipartisan agreement in order to achieve a result,” McConnell told reporters in December. Other Republican members of McConnell’s conference in the Senate are averse to any controversial fight, instead longing for a bipartisan agreement to spend another $1 trillion on infrastructure.
“Well, I’d like to see us pivot to infrastructure. We’ve talked it all year, the president talked about it,” Sen. Shelley Moore-Capito, R-W.Va., said. “I think it could be a bipartisan exercise. I would certainly hope so.”
Sure, it could be a bipartisan exercise in kicking the can down the road on the fundamental issue of our time: debt. Every source of the inhibitors of economic growth in the United States can be traced back to the debt and the profligate government spending causing it.
It is increasingly apparent that a solution will not come from Congress. Our leaders in Congress have an irresponsible instinct for political self-preservation, and so they recoil from serious spending cuts. The people of the United States have a self-destructive addiction to government benefits — paid for by their neighbors and future generations. Any cut in spending is perceived as an attack on their entitled rights and is punished at the ballot box.
The people follow their leaders, but the leaders reflect the people.
For this reason, the only hope for a restoration of limited government and fiscal sanity rests not in the hands of elected leaders, but in the American people, who are sovereign. To paraphrase the great Benjamin Franklin, limited government is only fit for a virtuous people capable of governing themselves. If Americans are capable of governing themselves, if the people are willing to make a great national sacrifice for the sake of their unborn heirs, we will once again prosper.
If we are incapable of self-government, then the cause of liberty is lost and future generations will become slaves to the debts of their heartless forebears.
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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