The Looming Debt Ceiling Calamity: Mutual Self-Destruction

The Republicans and Democrats are playing a dangerous game with Americans. And they both know it. 

At his Feb. 7 State of the Union address President Biden got rare unanimity among Democrats and Republicans on one key issue: protecting Social Security and Medicare.

“Social Security and Medicare should be “completely off the table” when it comes to debt ceiling negotiations, said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. In fact, McCarty said, Congress should be “strengthening” those programs.

The problem is if cuts to Medicare and Social Security are off the table, there’d have to be bruising cuts in other parts of the federal budget., something neither party is likely to accede to. 

Neither side wants to tackle the programs that are chewing up most of the federal budget. 

It used to be that Congress and the President had a lot of flexibility in setting the federal budget every year. The total pot wasn’t nearly as big as now, but most of it was subject to haggling. Not anymore.

Federal spending is divided into three broad categories: discretionary spending, mandatory spending, and net interest.

Mandatory spending is composed of budget outlays controlled by laws other than appropriation acts, including federal spending on entitlement programs. Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid make up the bulk of mandatory spending that’s on autopilot.. 

In FY1962, way back when I was a freshman in college, which was before the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, mandatory spending was less than 30% of all federal spending. 

By FY2016, mandatory spending had increased to about 63% of total federal spending, and in FY2021 it had grown to about 71% of total federal spending.  In other words, mandatory spending was slowly gobbling up most of the federal budget, leaving smaller and smaller shares subject to congressional negotiations. 

So now we have Republicans in the awkward position of insisting on deep spending cuts while leaving the two biggest drivers of federal spending untouched.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of GOP lawmakers have said  they want a near freeze on discretionary spending for 10 years, without raising taxes, cutting Social Security and Medicare costs or funding for veterans and defense, with a goal of balancing the budget in that period.

Without raising taxes, cutting Social Security and Medicare costs or funding for veterans and defense, Congress would need to cut 85% of spending in all other categories to balance the budget in 10 years, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan budget group, has concluded. 

Let’s get real. That’s not going to happen. 

So we’re all left twisting in the wind while our so-called public servants pontificate. They ought to be ashamed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s