Our opulent government will never change

I know I have said this before, and I will likely say it again, but neither side in the American political debate takes government finances seriously. One party pretends to care about deficits and (rightly) lowers taxes while (wrongly) allowing spending to continue to grow exponentially. The other party pretends that our debt problem doesn’t exist, and proposes ever more creative ways to make it significantly worse.

In 2019 so far, the U.S. budget deficit has hit $984 billion, which represents a 26 percent increase from the previous year, and a 48 percent increase from the year before that. The deficit is now at its highest point in seven years.

So much for fiscal conservatism.

Now, the natural reaction from the left to that tidbit of data is to go right to the tax cuts signed by President Trump at the end of 2017, and blame them for the situation we currently find ourselves in. If only we hadn’t cut taxes, they say, we wouldn’t be experiencing this problem.

Alas, revenues actually have grown under the Trump administration. Not as much as they needed to grow, mind you, and not as much as I think the administration hoped they would, but tax receipts rose from roughly $3.33 trillion in 2018 to $3.44 trillion in 2019.

For the record, that kind of year-to-year growth in revenues is fairly standard, irrespective of what the government does with taxes. As I have told you before on these very pages, during the Obama budgets (2010 through 2017) revenues increased by roughly $1.16 trillion, or about $145 billion per year on average, with some years quite a bit leaner.

In other words, tax cut or no tax cut, this level of revenue growth is fairly standard. Which means the deficit is driven by something else. And that something is spending, particularly entitlement spending.

The last budget deal cut by President Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress raised spending by $320 billion dollars. On top of that is the ever growing “automatic spending” contained in our entitlement programs.

Don’t believe me? Let’s say you wanted to get rid of the deficit by cutting $1 trillion dollars in discretionary — non-entitlement — spending.

Well, unfortunately, the entire discretionary budget for 2018 is $1.3 trillion, and that includes all military spending. The non-defense discretionary budget is only $639 billion. So basically, you would have to cut every single scrap of discretionary spending, and whittle our military down to 40 percent of its current size, to even begin to talk about balancing the budget.

Good luck selling that to the American people.

Which means, dear reader, that the problem is really contained in the non-discretionary entitlement spending. If you want to really get our debt under control, there has to be major reform there.

But Republicans don’t actually want to do that. No, they would rather focus their policy agenda on tax cuts — which admittedly I like, and think are good policy — because they are popular. They do this while simultaneously failing to confront spending, because cuts or reforms to entitlement programs are not popular.

But since when does popularity have anything to do with responsible budget management? If a government spends itself into a debt crisis, will those popular entitlements even be able to exist in the future?

Someone has to be an adult. Someone has to step up and say, “we can’t keep spending money like this,” and try to do something to fix it.

Unfortunately, if you thought Republican failures in this area meant that Democratic politicians were a wise bet, you are kidding yourself. Despite the ever mounting debt crisis, and the clear knowledge that those deficits are driven by spending, Democrats can’t stop spending money.

Take Elizabeth Warren, who is currently the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. So far, she has proposed a $1.25 trillion plan to make college tuition free, an $800 billion spending plan for schools, and a $700 billion child care plan.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks to members of the media at a campaign event, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, in Laconia, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

None of those 10-year plans account for her steadfast support of a “Medicare for All” plan that would cost the government more than $32.6 trillion dollars over the course of 10 years.

If you’re keeping track, that is roughly $6 trillion dollars — per year — in new spending proposals from Warren. That would bring us from a $4.5 trillion national budget to a $10.5 trillion national budget.

And assuming she paid for every scrap of that new spending — which would require every single American, rich and poor, to triple their tax liability — we would still have a $1 trillion dollar deficit, and growing.

It is time for us to wake up and stop rewarding people, who seemingly want to spend us into oblivion, with our vote. But if there is one constant in the universe, it is the American addiction to spending, and the desire to ignore the consequences.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.