Recently, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) held a hearing about government funding titled, “Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Ways of Funding Government.” While the title of the hearing was comedic, its contents were anything but.
The flavor of the hearing was optimistic, but you could hear the frustration from the witnesses and the (few) Senators present. In fact, not including Senator Paul, only two of the 15 committee members attended the hearing, despite the witnesses being experts on the broken federal budget. Shocking, because of our current fiscal climate. Sen. Paul echoed this sentiment saying funding the government responsibly comes down to political will, “it means electing people who care, and frankly neither side cares, and that’s a problem.”
There is truth to that, as neither party seems to care how much debt they mortgage on to the next generation. A little over a week ago, in order to keep the federal government open, Congress passed a $300 billion increase above the spending caps, without any offsets or reforms. Piling on to our $20 trillion national debt should outrage all Americans, especially younger ones. While politicians see doing the minimal amount by keeping the government open as a political win, young and future generations can expect to pay for Congress’s ignorance in the form of stagnant economic growth, higher taxes, and less opportunity.
Those present at the hearing discussed a multitude of ideas on how Congress could better pass a budget, but the hearing was overshadowed by the fact that the witnesses kept pointing to the federal government’s real issue: entitlements.
Deciding how much discretionary funding gets doled out annually is important, but not nearly as important as the two-thirds of spending that goes out automatically. President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Maya MacGuineas, suggested instead of Congress focusing on the discretionary budget, they look to the main driver of our debt. “It seems to me if we start with the biggest programs which are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and figure out how to make them solvent, that will go a long way to strengthening those programs and alleviating a lot of the pressure that’s on the budget.”
MacGuineas is right. Social Security is projected to run out of funds in 2035 and Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust is projected to be depleted by 2029. If nothing is done between now and 2035, benefits will be cut by 25% for Social Security recipients. Despiste the “pushing grandma off a cliff” scare tactics many members of Congress use, reform is the only way to save the program from failing. However, like MacGuineas firmly stated at the end of the hearing, “we demagogue these issues and we pretend we don’t have to fix them and by not fixing them, they are making the people who depend on them increasingly vulnerable…Burying our head in the sand is not the right approach.”
Perhaps this hearing can be summed up with what Senator Paul calls Washington’s dirty secret: “Republicans don’t want to cut spending, Democrats don’t want to raise taxes.” Neither party wants to change the status quo. Only by increasing accountability and electing true leaders will this fiscal crisis be solved. But something better change quick or millennials will be the ones holding the bill.