Washington has made more than $100 trillion in future promises with no plan to pay for them. “Bah humbug!” The national debt is over $19 trillion. “Bah humbug!” Sadly, as Congress and the President continue to choose parochial self-interests over the long-term health of the nation, Washington appears as selfish as Scrooge when it comes to our nation’s future. If you’re one of the 75 million Americans between the ages of 18-35, hold onto your seats, because Tiny Tim will not be the only one left behind if Washington does not change its spending habits.
In this time of cheer and happiness, we can hope the ‘drain the swamp’ mantra will spur real change in Washington. People are worried about our country’s direction, and they should be, especially younger Americans. For the future of our nation, I hope Washington will listen.
Despite all available evidence about our nation’s finances, Congress routinely reauthorizes wasteful programs, duplicates existing ones, and fails to see the big picture on most issues. While there are many in Washington trying to do the right thing, no one can claim ignorance. As Erksine Bowles, President Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, has said frequently: “I think today we face the most predictable economic crisis in history. Fortunately, I think it’s also the most avoidable. I think it’s clear, if you do simple arithmetic, the fiscal path that the nation is on is simply not sustainable.”
Due to political expediency, Congress regularly creates new programs (many that address important needs) while repeatedly failing to eliminate duplicative programs addressing the same needs. These duplicating programs often work at cross purposes, are administered by a variety of agencies with different rules and criteria, and most importantly, squander resources that could be used to better the lives of all Americans. For example, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are 50 programs across 20 Federal agencies promoting financial literacy. The joke writes itself.
Congress frequently gets caught up in the “here and now” and fails to see the impact of wasteful and inefficient programs on our future generations. Another program here, another program there, disguised to “help” Americans are really hurting them. Millennials get a bad rap for wanting instant gratification, but Congress has made an art form out of choosing their todays over our tomorrows. This unfolding tragedy means that Washington borrows, at great cost to our future, to fund failing and ineffective programs. In effect, we minimize effectiveness today and maximize pain for future generations. That’s a bad recipe. Ronald Reagan said in his famous “A Time for Choosing” speech something about government programs that is still relevant today:
“So they’re going to solve all the problems of human misery through government and government planning. Well, now, if government planning and welfare had the answer — and they’ve had almost 30 years of it — shouldn’t we expect government to read the score to us once in a while? Shouldn’t they be telling us about the decline each year in the number of people needing help? But the reverse is true. Each year the need grows greater; the program grows greater.”
There is no better modern example than the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps. One of the essential goals of the program is to reduce the number of households with children that experience low food security. However, results of the program tell a different story. Just ten years ago there were 25 million Americans receiving food assistance costing $31 billion annually. Last year, the number of people receiving food assistance was 45 million costing $73 billion. That’s a 45% increase in recipients and a 58% increase in cost in just ten years!
It’s clear this program isn’t working the way it should. If it were, we would see a decrease of people needing assistance over time. While it is vital that we maintain programs for those in need, it is also important we remain dedicated to find solutions that work and solutions that are efficient. However, when it comes to domestic food assistance, there are 18 different programs administered by three different agencies. Programs like this are too big and often times overlap.
GAO and the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General have detailed ways to fix this program and many others, yet nothing is done. Instead, Congress continues to reauthorize programs without trying to fix them. Is Congress so selfish to not see past their misguided desires to “help?”
So this is my call to action, just like Ebenezer Scrooge changed his ways Christmas morning long ago, Congress too can change its ways starting after the Presidential Inauguration. Our children will be left with a massive burden if tough choices are not made today. There is no doubt the road to fiscal solvency will be tough, and some Americans will suffer as a result, but more Americans will suffer, and at a much deeper cost, if nothing is done to fix our fiscal shortcomings soon. Don’t throw away the future of young Americans for instant gratitude today.
“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused,” screeched Scrooge’s former business partner Jacob Marley. I challenge Congress to heed Marley’s words.