President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal released this week is the first step in decades toward slowing the out-of-control death spiral dive of America’s unsustainable spending habits. Our Constitution established a government for only five responsibilities: justice, domestic tranquility, national defense, citizens’ general well-being, and liberty. Yet, almost two-thirds of the total budget is mandatory spending for Social Security and Medicare/health, neither of which is the Constitutional responsibility of the government.
The federal budget is complex, but, in simple terms, about two-thirds of your federal tax payment goes to other individuals in the form of Social Security, health care, and welfare. These are mostly good and needed expenditures, but have little to do with federal government obligations, unless we try to fit them under its responsibility for general well-being. I don’t think that is what the founding fathers really had in mind.
This leaves the President and Congress only able to control about a third of the budget, called the discretionary budget. That is what President Trump’s first budget proposal is about. His proposal supports the Constitutional responsibilities of government while making deep cuts in most other categories. Many categories outside the purview of the federal government have been cut to fund the more critical government responsibilities (see the bar chart above). He proposes reductions in some government responsibilities, but in smaller percentages.
Essentially, the President’s total budget proposal is roughly the same as Obama’s 2017 proposal (see the pie graph above), but categories have shifted dramatically away from funding non-government responsibilities to funding legitimate government responsibilities. Although this won’t do much to reduce the overall budget, it does a lot to correct back to rightful Constitutional priorities. Until we return to Constitutional priorities, we will never be able to get the budget under control. Of course, Congress is the branch that decides the final budget, and there is where the huge fight over this radical White House proposal will ensue. Almost all constituents enjoy the government hand-outs and will insist that their representatives protect their favorites.
The most difficult budget problem America faces, though, is the bigger mandatory spending budget mostly for retirement and health programs. Our national debt approaching $20 trillion cannot be reduced unless and until we do something to reduce Social Security and Medicare payments. America simply cannot sustain that kind of debt and interest payments. We can proclaim rightly and loudly that we paid for those entitlements and watch our nation’s economy implode, or we can just accept that we were wronged, but fix it anyway. No practical re-prioritization or reduction in discretionary spending can make up for the present run-away mandatory spending.
I applaud the President’s radical shifts in his discretionary budget proposal. However, his future proposals must show reductions in total spending, and he and Congress must reduce the mandatory budget as difficult and unpopular as that will be. This period of conservative majority in Washington will probably be our last window of opportunity to tame American’s wild budget. I urge everyone to tell the White House and the Congress that you are willing to take some personal hits in order to resolve our nation’s financial crisis.
Please reply with your thoughts.