For four straight years, the United States of America has not adopted a budget, notwithstanding the requirement of Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution that “a regular statement and accounts of receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.”
Essentially betraying the public trust to spend tax dollars wisely (not to mention Constitutionally), the Congress has relied instead on “continuing resolutions” to fund federal government spending and has repeatedly increased the federal debt limit to accommodate it.
One can argue – and many have – that the government should spend less on this program and more on that, less on guns and more on butter, but on one thing both the current President and recent Congresses have pretended to agree: that the difference between what the government takes in each year and what it spends each year urgently needs reducing. Indeed, the President promised as much again in his recent State of the Union address, as he has done repeatedly before.
Almost exactly three years ago to the day, for example, the White House by Executive Order on February 18, 2010, created the “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” – more popularly known as Simpson-Bowles – to come up with a way “to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015,” an accomplishment for which the Administration claims credit to this day. Unfortunately, as with the Grace Commission Report under Ronald Reagan way back in 1984, the Commission’s recommendations have gone ignored.
Instead of either adopting either Simpson-Bowles or coming up with an acceptable budget, the President proposed, the Congress enacted, and the President signed into law on August 2, 2011, The Budget Control Act of 2011, giving rise to what we now know as “sequestration.” The mechanics are complicated, but in essence the government promised taxpayers to cut $917 billion in specified spending over 10 years in exchange for the people approving another debt limit increase of $900 billion.
In addition, the Act promised, if Congress failed to come up with at least another $1.2 trillion in cuts by January 3, 2013, then Congress could increase the debt ceiling by yet another $1.2 trillion. With some exceptions, however, Congress promised that it would then automatically cut spending across the board for the years 2013 to 2021 in the amount by which it had failed to reduce the deficit.
When you think about it, the promise of far-off spending cuts in exchange for immediate increased borrowing is not much of a bargain for taxpayers at all – as J. Wellington Wimpy said in the old “Popeye” cartoons, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” – and the government has been no more reliable than Wimpy. Almost immediately following his re-election the President disowned his own legislation, promised via the media that “sequestration is not going to happen,” and demanded still more taxes, spending, and debt limit increases.
Predictably, in January, Congress caved, putting sequestration off until March, soaking the people for $600 billion in new taxes without cutting spending by a dime. Yet now that he has his additional revenue, the President has promised more spending and demanded still more taxes, all without any spending cuts.
Speaker of the House John Boehner says he’s had enough, and let taxpayers hope that this time he means it. As the Congressional Budget Office measures it, sequestration will reportedly mean about an 8% cut in military spending and 5-6% in domestic spending, both of which sound initially severe.
But for a nation famously winding down two wars with un-needed bases both stateside and abroad, an 8% cut in military spending over the next ten years ought to be doable. And if inspectors general can’t ferret out 5-6% of waste, fraud, and abuse in domestic spending over the next ten years then they probably aren’t doing their jobs and should be fired, which in itself would save taxpayers a few bucks.
The national government currently spends approximately $3.8 trillion per year and is an estimated $16.5 trillion in debt and rising, or roughly $240,000 per actual tax-paying citizen. (Of an estimated 138 million individual tax filers in the country, roughly only half pay any income taxes.)
As the President himself has said in a slightly different context, at some point you’ve got enough money. America needs to cut its spending habits. All else having failed, the time has come for sequestration.