Interest rates, skyrocketing trade deficit and the inability of Congress and the Oval Office to be fiscally responsible are strangling America’s coffers. For example, due to Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the federal deficit will increase $1.1 trillion by the end of the 2019 fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2019). This saddles every American with $3,344 of unpaid debt.
Additionally, Congressional Republicans and Democrats permitted federal spending to rise $2.571 trillion in the first seven months of FY 2019 (Oct. 1, 2018-April 30, 2019)—that’s $178 billion more than in the same time period one year ago. And, we’ve still got the months of May, June, July, August and September to put-to-bed before FY 2019 ends. Congress also approved Social Security benefit payouts to increase 6 percent, Medicare 5 percent, Medicaid 4 percent and defense spending 10 percent.
Interest payments on federal debt held by the public rose 13 percent due to higher short-term interest rates and more debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Congress “will spend more on interest than it spends on Medicaid in 2020; more in 2023 than it spends on national defense; and more in 2025 than it spends on all non-defense discretionary programs combined, from funding for national parks to scientific research, to health care and education, to the court system and infrastructure.”
The trust factor Americans have for Congress and the President to deliver on their promises and run the country as if it were a fiscally responsible business is now lower than just after the 1974 Watergate scandal. The last time we saw bipartisanship for fiscal responsibility was in 1997 when House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Rep.) and President Bill Clinton (Dem.) put aside differences to balance the budget. That was over 20 years ago.
Most, if not all political candidates claim, especially when they are on the campaign trail, to be fiscally responsible? Wise voters know, through life experiences, that actions speak louder than words. The irresponsible budgetary actions of President Trump and virtually every Republican and Democrat in Congress are creating a heap of trouble for America’s fiscally conservative citizens.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 is one method to control spending and slow the growth of the federal deficit. Instead of Congress raising caps and adding billions of dollars for new spending, they should extend the act and remove the categorical caps for defense and non-defense spending.
Congress needs to pass what the bipartisan and not-for-profit No Labels organization identified in 2015 as the Fiscal Responsibility Act. This prohibits Congress from passing budgets that would increase the national debt as a share of the overall economy, except in cases of war, disaster or recession.
Budget and spending bill deadlines have routinely been missed because too many monetary and oversight decisions have to be made every year. If Congress were smart, they would purposely adopt a two-year budgeting process, working one year on appropriations and the next year on oversight activities. Likewise, Congress needs to divide the budget into two parts: a capital budget for long-term investments (e.g., infrastructure, research, etc.) and an operating budget for annual expenses. [P.S. to Congress: work smarter, not harder.]
Small businesses, corporations and families stay out of bankruptcy and remain solvent by being fiscally responsible. I don’t think it’s too much to ask our elected officials to do the same, especially knowing they are the conservators of our money. In my humble opinion, citizens should only vote for Presidential and Congressional candidates if they have a record of being fiscal responsibility when they ran a company or while a public servant.
Platitudes of promises don’t cut it for me anymore. How about you?
Steve Corbin is Professor Emeritus of Marketing, University of Northern Iowa and a 1966 graduate of Nevada High School.