I am a candidate in the Nebraska Republican Primary for U.S. Senate against the incumbent Deb Fischer because she is ignoring out enormous and out-of-control national debt. In fact she has voted twice recently to make the debt much worse than it is already.
In my last post I made the case that debt is by far the biggest long term problem facing our country and that it will be a huge burden on future generations, starting with the millennials.
A new report from the Congressional Budget Office shows just how bad the problem really is:
To just stabilize our debt at the current level of 78% of GDP (for the public part on which we pay interest) will take a savings of at least $5.4 trillion over the next ten years. To achieve even this modest goal would require reducing annual deficits by roughly 50%.
To balance the budget by 2028 (allowing ten years to accomplish this) would take a savings of least $7 trillion over the next decade. This would mean reducing annual deficits by $700 billion per year on average, an extremely difficult task.
Such numbers as these show how frightfully serious our fiscal situation is. Our national leaders should be working hard to focus the country’s attention on this awful problem and how we are going to address it. Instead they won’t even come together to negotiate sensible annual budgets.
Conclusion. How will our debt problem be resolved? Will it take a new crisis to wake up the country to our extremely dire fiscal situation? I prefer to be optimistic and hope for sensible action to head off a new crisis. But there is absolutely no guarantee that common sense will prevail.
I want to emphasize that I voted for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday because Donald Trump has such a sleazy and mercurial personality. But Mr. Trump was clearly the change candidate and we need change big time. His strongest base of support is the white working class which has not really recovered from the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and he will surely try to help out these people.
Here are the changes we need in order of importance:
Grow the economy faster. Tax reform, individual and corporate, and regulatory reform are what are most needed. Mr. Trump and the House Republicans are in rough agreement on both of these major initiatives and hopefully the new Republican led Senate will go along. The best kind of tax reform means to lower tax rates and shrink deductions enough to avoid losing tax revenue. This can be accomplished if a real effort is made to do it this way.
Begin to shrink our massive debt. This can only be done by major entitlement reform, meaning to control the costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare should be transitioned over from a single payer system to a premium support system, consistent with a reformed Affordable Care Act. Healthcare costs can only be contained by giving consumers more skin in the game, meaning higher deductibles supplemented with health savings accounts.
More assertive foreign policy. Worldwide peace and stability depend on our own economic and military strength. Right now China, Russia and Iran think they can push us around. President Trump will not let this happen.
Trade and immigration policy. Most knowledgeable people agree that international trade is generally beneficial. We simply have to do a better job of retraining American workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition. The key to immigration reform is tougher border security plus an effective guest worker visa program.
Conclusion. The Republican House of Representatives has an excellent plan, “A Better Way,” for American economic, fiscal and social renewal and Mr. Trump is largely supportive of it. This augers well for fundamental progress in the next four years.
In my last post, “Donald Trump’s Best Chance to Win in November,” I said that the best way for Mr. Trump to broaden his appeal beyond working-class whites and to have any chance of winning the presidential election is for him to endorse the reform plan, “A Better Way,” recently developed by the Republican House of Representatives. Here is a brief and positive summary of the Trump platform so far:
His tax plan is highly pro-growth and will not cost nearly as much as the previously advertised $10 trillion over a decade.
He supports legal immigration and simply wants to solve the illegal immigration problem, one way or another.
He is not opposed to foreign trade per se but wants to negotiate, from a position of strength, with countries that manipulate their currencies, steal intellectual property or compel companies to disclose trade secrets as a condition of entering their markets.
His policy proposals so described are completely compatible with the House’s “A Better Way” reform plan whose planks are:
Poverty. Reward work. Tailor benefits to people’s needs. Improve skills and schools. Demand results.
National Security. Defeat the terrorists. Protect the homeland. Defend freedom.
The economy. Regulate smarter. End bailouts and cronyism. Put students and workers first.
The constitution. Make government more accountable and more representative. Restore constitutional checks on spending.
Health Care. More choices and lower costs. Real protections and peace of mind. Cutting edge cures and treatments. A stronger Medicare.
Tax reform. Simplicity and fairness. Jobs and growth.
These guiding principles are being fleshed out into complete policy documents. They do indeed represent a better way forward for our national government. Donald Trump could do far worse than to endorse this comprehensive reform plan developed by the House Republicans. It would show that he is serious about “Making America Great Again.”
Such was the response of Benjamin Franklin to an inquiry from a citizen outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1787. Today our national government is highly dysfunctional and Congress has an especially low approval rating of 11%. U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R, Utah) believes that Congress is rightly to blame for the dysfunction. Says Mr. Lee in an article, “The Incredibly Shrinking Congress,” in the July 11, 2016 issue of the National Review:
The powers vested in Congress in Article I of the Constitution are orders of magnitude stronger than the powers given to the President (Article II) or the Supreme Court (Article III). This is because legislators are closer and more accountable to the people. Here is what Congress is doing wrong:
Too much power is delegated to the executive branch by allowing federal agencies to write the vast majority of the laws in the form of rules, regulations and legal interpretations.
Congress surrenders too much authority over federal spending to the President by letting the budget process come down to a single yes or no vote up against a crisis deadline.
Congress delegates too much of its constitutional oversight powers to the judicial branch. The answer is to make agency rules subject to Congressional veto.
Unfortunately too many members have a vested interest in a weak Congress because it relieves them of the hard job of legislating conscientiously. Only a strong Congress can fix a weak Congress. For example, Congress could:
Require legislative approval of major new rules and reauthorizations of existing ones.
Modernize its budget process to make sure that all agency budgets get proper individual consideration.
Rein in executive discretion by, for example, directing federal judges to conduct traditional judicial reviews in challenges against the administrative state, instead of simply deferring to the agencies own interpretations.
As Mr. Lee concludes, “Putting Congress back in charge of federal policy, would put American people back in charge of Washington, regardless of who sits in the oval office.” In today’s divisive and destructive political environment, this is a very good idea indeed.
As regular readers of this blog well know, I constantly advocate for two major changes in government policy:
Speeding up economic growth, which has averaged an anemic 2.1% per year since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. This will create the new and higher paying jobs that country so badly needs.
Shrinking annual deficits, ideally down to zero, so that our huge public debt (on which we pay interest) will begin to decrease as a percentage of GDP over time.
My last post compared the President’s proposed budget for 2017 with a proposal from the House Budget Committee. Basically the President’s budget increases both taxes and spending while the House budget keeps revenues at a steady 18.2% and leads to a balanced budget after ten years. The non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has just produced an interesting report, ”How Much More Would Government Spend Under the Next President?” It compares the spending plans of the remaining five presidential candidates from both parties. It finds that:
Only John Kasich would actually decrease spending over the next decade from 22.1% of GDP (under current law) to 21.5%.
The other four candidates would all increase spending: Hillary Clinton (to 22.5%), DonaldTrump (to 22.7%), Ted Cruz (to 23.4) and Bernie Sanders (to 29.5%).
Mr. Kasich’s spending restraint would amount to a 2% decrease over current law while Ms. Clinton, for example, would increase spending by 2%.
As I showed a year ago, reining in spending by 2% per year over current law is a major achievement and will lead to a balanced budget in ten years. In other words, Mr. Kasich’s spending plans are in sync with the latest House Budget Committee proposal. Perhaps this should not be surprising since Mr. Kasich served as Chair of this House Committee in the 1990s! Easy question: Which presidential candidate and which chamber of Congress are acting in the most fiscally responsible manner?
In January I had several posts advocating in favor of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Briefly, the argument runs as follows:
Our public debt (on which we pay interest) is now at 74% of GDP, the highest it has been since the end of WWII.
Democrats want to raise taxes and increase spending; Republicans want to cut taxes and decrease spending. The only way to satisfy both parties simultaneously is to run huge annual deficits which is exactly what has happened ever since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.
Current planning for the next budget year beginning October 1, 2016 has now begun. Both the House Budget Committee and the President have budget proposals for next year. As reported by the Peterson Foundation, these two budgets differ substantially:
The President’s budget would hold the public debt at about 75% of GDP over the next ten years by both raising taxes and increasing spending on a variety of programs.
The House Budget Committee plan keeps revenues steady at 18.2% of GDP over the next ten years and achieves a balanced budget after ten years. By 2026 the debt held by the public would fall to 57% of GDP from its current 74% level.
Here are two significantly different ten year budget plans. What is likely to happen is a complete standoff without any bipartisan agreement. This means that no appropriations bills for individual government agencies will be enacted by October 1. Finally, as usual, an omnibus spending bill will be put together by Congressional leaders and forced through at the last minute to avoid a government shutdown.
A BBA would make both sides compromise and come up with an overall plan. It would likely contain both spending restraint and new sources of revenue. Then the various Congressional committees would hammer out the spending details for individual agencies and department. It would be a far more sensible and transparent process than the way things are done now.
Congress and the President have to be forced to act in such a reasonable manner. A Balance Budget Amendment is perhaps the only way to make this happen.
“The Congress, … , on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof …”
Article V, The U.S. Constitution
As I pointed out in my last post, under the current 2016 federal budget, just adopted by Congress and signed by the President, our public debt (on which we pay interest) is now projected by the Congressional Budget Office to increase from 74% of GDP today to 175% of GDP in 2040, just 25 years from now.
Of course, a new, and more severe, financial crisis is likely to occur long before we hit such a high level of debt but this serves to emphasize the extreme seriousness of our present situation and the need to address it without delay.
The best and simplest way to do this is for Congress to act on its own accord to pass balanced budgets. In fact, the current Congress passed a multi-year budget plan last Spring which leads to a balanced budget in ten years, by 2025. But the budget just passed last week for 2016 totally ignores this plan and actually increases the deficit for 2016 by $158 billion.
In other words, Congress on its own accord appears incapable of acting in a fiscally responsible manner. As shown above, our founding fathers foresaw the possibility of congressional stalemate and provided for an alternative route to force Congress to act on critical issues. As reported by the Balanced Budget Amendment Taskforce, 27 states have already called for a Constitutional Convention out of the 34 needed to force congressional action.
In my next post I will discuss in detail the ramifications of holding a constitutional convention, pro and con.
Congress has adjourned for Christmas having passed a final budget for the 2016 Fiscal Year extending through next September. It puts into place for this year the two year spending agreement reached between Congress and the President in October. However Congress started out the year by passing a ten year budget plan resolution leading to a balanced budget by 2025. The budget just passed leads instead to a deficit of $1.1 trillion in 2025. Here are the details as described by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:
Revenue: decreased under new budget by a $650 billion (over ten years) by making various temporary tax deductions permanent.
Discretionary Spending: increased by $50 billion for the current budget year (by breaking the sequester cap).
Medicare: instead of saving $430 billion over ten years, Medicare spending is increased by $95 billion over ten years.
2025 Deficit: instead of shrinking to zero in ten years, it is now projected to be more than $1 trillion in 2025.
2025 Debt: currently the (public, on which we pay interest) debt is 74% of GDP. The ten year balanced budget plan would reduce the debt to 56% of GDP. Instead, the debt is now on track to reach 80% of GDP by 2025.
Granted the Republican Congress hopes to develop a tax reform plan in 2016 which would lower tax rates for everyone, paid for by closing many of the loopholes and deductions just approved last week. One very good way to do this has recently been proposed by the Tax Foundation. The TF plan would boost economic growth and thereby increase tax revenue substantially over ten years.
The problem is that real tax reform is unlikely to happen without a Republican president in office. If a Democratic president is elected in 2016, then the dire predictions made by the CRFB (above) are likely to remain valid for the foreseeable future. Our fiscal and economic future remains quite precarious at the present time!
A tentative budget deal has just been reached by Congress and the President to 1) suspend the debt limit until March 2017, and 2) loosen the budget sequester caps by $112 billion over the next two years. $80 billion of the increased spending will be balanced by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget with details to be worked out later by various appropriations committees. Specifically:
The current debt ceiling of $18.1 trillion will be lifted until March 2017, after a new president takes office. This will allow an expected increase in the debt of about $900 billion to take place over the next 1½ years.
Both military and discretionary non-military spending will increase by $40 billion each over the next 2 years with the military receiving an additional $32 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations.
The problem is that such a deal essentially just maintains the budget status-quo. It does nothing to begin shrinking annual deficits in order to put our accumulated national debt on a downward path as a percentage of GDP. Our current debt of 74% of GDP is very high by historical standards and simply must be brought down significantly in the near term. As I explained in my last post, Congressional Republicans, with majorities in both the House and the Senate, should be able to apply much more leverage than was used in the deal just reached, as follows:
Yes, extend the debt ceiling for two years. We need to pay our debts. But insist on spending discipline from now on.
Allow only brief temporary budget extensions at current levels until a plan is adopted to put deficits and debt on a downward path. The Republican ten year plan for a balanced budget would be a good place to start.
It’s time for fiscal conservatives to stand up and be counted!
Adopt a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, phased-in over ten years.
Phase out Social Security and Medicare for those under age 55.
Dismantle over the next decade the rest of the federal welfare/entitlement system.
Provide social services at the state or local level.
Launch a national effort to build a majority in Congress of crusaders for limited government. There are some attractive features to Chip’s program but overall I think it is too radical to have much chance at implementation.
I am very much in favor of a balanced budget amendment and a ten year phase-in period is quite reasonable. Furthermore, providing social services at the state and local level would be much more efficient than what we are currently doing and, even with federal support, would be a big help in balancing the budget.
Social Security and Medicare are lifelines for tens of millions of people. We can and should strengthen these programs in order to make them more financially viable for future retirees. They are now part of our national fabric and are here to stay.
Chip’s last principle, promoting limited government, has much appeal but I think is not practical in this day and age. From my perspective, simply passing a Balanced Budget Amendment is sufficient to do what is needed. A BBA will force Congress to set spending priorities and eliminate inferior programs.
Chip Maxwell is to be commended in running for Congress. If elected, he would move the needle in the right direction, even though some of his ideas wont work.