There are new Congressional Budget Office numbers out on the national debt, and America’s fiscal future is looking bleaker than ever. According to a new estimate, we’ll add $12 trillion to the total over the next decade, which CBO director Keith Hall calls “unsustainable.”
My colleague Chris Pandolfo is right: A driving force behind this problem is public apathy about it: “Numbers and statistics are boring. They don’t go viral. Celebrities don’t talk about them, and numbers as big as a trillion are impossible to wrap our minds around.”
But this is only half of the equation. The other side is that Washington really likes spending, and both major parties are guilty of it. As Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., and CR’s Daniel’s Horowitz have pointed out, the problem is more about spending than about revenue supposedly reduced by GOP tax cuts.
Each party, of course, gets its spending fix through different means. Whereas Democrats like burgeoning entitlement programs but don’t like the idea of reforming them and subsidies for green energy products that aren’t yet economically viable, Republicans like market-distorting farm subsidies and are usually averse to anything that might somehow reform or reduce defense spending. (Meanwhile, the Pentagon failed its first-ever audit back in November.)
There’s also widespread hesitation to do anything to meaningfully reform Social Security and Medicare, both of which are hurtling towards insolvency at faster rates than predicted.
Then you have emergency spending, which falls more along geographical lines than ideological ones. States in disaster-prone areas surely can’t be expected to put money aside to address the natural disasters than naturally occur there. The preferred Swamp method to address this is through massive emergency spending bills with even less oversight and more expedience than regular spending bills.
Of course, there’s all the odd, wasteful things like federal funding to study the sex habits of quails on cocaine, or $18 million to prop up Egypt’s tourism industry, or $200,000 to put on plays in Afghanistan. Seriously, if you haven’t read the 2018 Waste Report put out by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., you’re missing out. These are smaller than the bigger-ticket items above, but the sheer number of spending programs is a reminder of just how vast and complex the administrative state has gotten. That’s yet another front of the debt fight.
And all this is assisted by the mistaken cultural assumption that attention to a specific issue is best measured in the amount of taxpayer money dedicated to it. But when you have a hammer, the old saying goes, every problem looks like a nail. There are indeed a lot of misidentified nails in the D.C. Swamp.