“The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost is one of the most famous poems by an American poet. Perhaps it is so famous because readers can relate it to their own lives. Usually, when confronted with the proverbial “fork in the road,” most people can tell which path is the easy path and which is the right path. However, for whatever reason, society as a whole, now and again, chooses to take the easy path.
Last week, Congress chose once again to take the path of least resistance to fund the government for another five months. The agreement spends money our nation does not have on programs and agencies that have failed to succeed. Yet, Congress will put their rubber stamp of approval on every program currently funded by the federal government.
You may have heard some form of the quote, “Resistance means you are headed in the right direction.” Over the past couple decades, Congress has chosen to forgo the path of resistance, and instead has continued to opt for the easier path. Eventually, their choices will catch up to them and the American people.
With almost $20 trillion in debt and billions added each day, our country is on an unsustainable path. To make matters worse, Congress has made over $100 trillion in promises to our senior citizens and future retirees through our unsustainable entitlement programs.
In addition, Congress routinely fails to oversee programs that lose hundreds of billions of dollars annually to waste, fraud and abuse. Future generations will have a tough road ahead if the current generation of lawmakers continue to mortgage their futures.
Soon, interest payments on the national debt will consume a majority of federal resources. In 2015, we spent 6 percent of our budget, or $200 billion, paying interest on our debt. In 2024, less than 10 years from now, the Congressional Budget Office projects it will reach nearly $800 billionand will be one of the largest budget items, next to only Social Security and Medicare.
Additionally, around the same time, the Social Security trustees projectthe entitlement program will become insolvent: “Under the Trustees’ intermediate assumptions, projected OASDI (Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance) cost will exceed total income by increasing amounts starting in 2020, and the dollar level of the combined trust fund reserves declines until reserves become depleted in 2034.”
What is most shocking is that these problems are not even being discussed in Congress. Instead, Congress routinely focuses on getting through the next election cycle, rather than the generations who will be most affected by their devotion to take the easy road. However, Congress is not the only one to blame. Special interest groups continually mislead their constituents and fail to define the real cost of each program they support.
For example, recently, President Trump released a vague outline of his tax reform plan. One of the pieces of the plan is to double the standard deduction. Yet, as soon the plan was released, the chairman of the National Association of Home Builders said, “Doubling the standard deduction could severely marginalize the mortgage interest deduction, which would reduce housing demand and lead to lower home values.”
As executive director at the Foundation to Restore Accountability, Bryan Berky, writes, “Translation: doubling the standard deduction would allow taxpayers to keep more of their money to spend how he or she wants to, rather than how the housing lobby wants them to.”
No matter how ineffective or wasteful a program might be, it has a constituency that will vie for funding and reauthorization. Since 2011, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has aimed to curb these wasteful and ineffective programs by releasing an annual duplication report. The report outlined 645 actions across 249 areas for Congress and the executive branch to address.
While half of these recommendations have been completed — resulting in $136 billion in taxpayer savings — there is still an abundance of recommendations that have not been addressed. The GAO projects that these recommendations could save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.
This September, there will once again be a fork in the road for Congress and the administration. The right path will include offsets for each new and existing program, the elimination of programs that fail to produce results and language that addresses our long-term fiscal challenges like the national debt and entitlements.
If the right path is not chosen soon, there will be no option for future generations, just a “road closed” sign due to the failed choices of past leaders.