The Broken Budget Process

Last month the federal deficit hit $23 trillion. An economic record that President Trump should not be proud of.

President Trump can claim victory in many areas of the nation's economy. Unemployment reaching record lows and the stock market hitting repeated record highs are two huge accomplishments that he can point to. Unfortunately, the 2020 budget proposal is expected to add another trillion dollars to the national debt. (thebalance.com) What happened to fiscal responsibility?

In the 243 years since the foundation of our republic, we have been a debt-free nation a total of once and only for two years. President Andrew Jackson was the only president in our history able to claim that victory, in 1835 and 1836. The United States has had the world's largest economy since 1871. How and why have we accumulated $23 trillion in national debt while having the largest economy in the world for the past 148 years?

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Let’s start with the term federal budget. A budget is a comparison between income and expenses for a given period of time. Our federal budget is twelve separate appropriations bills and the fiscal year starts on October first. To be a real budget, all twelve bills need to be considered, passed by both houses of Congress, and signed by the President by September 30th. The last time that happened was 1996.

When the process fails, as has happened every one of the past twenty-three years, Congress must pass one or more continuing resolution. This is where Congress and the President agree to just kick the can down the road and keep spending at the current rate. Sometimes they can't even agree on a continuing resolution, that is when some part of the government loses funding and temporarily shuts down. One party will blame the other party or Congress will blame the president, but the September 30th deadline has been the same for years. All the people involved have an entire year to pass the twelve bills required, yet it has been 23 years since they last did so on time. In fact, since 1976 our government has only been able to pass all twelve bills by September 30th four times.

That is just the process. What about fiscal responsibility? Most people would say that it is not really a budget unless spending is at or below income. The idea of living within a budget has been completely lost on Washington D.C. The last time we had a balanced federal budget passed, albeit late, was 1998. So, for the rest of those 41 years, Congress has planned on spending more money than they bring in. (To be fair, 2001 the budget was wrong and we ended up with an unplanned surplus.) What happens when they repeatedly spend more than we have? No worries, they just vote and raise their own credit limit or the debt ceiling. That’s right, they can raise their own credit limit without permission from we the people ultimately paying that bill. Currently, the national debt works out to be almost $67,000 per U.S. household, according to statista.com.

A townhall poll says that 85% of Americans support requiring a balanced federal budget. With such strong support, you would think Congress would at least try to balance the budget, but you would be very wrong. In fact, Congress has voted down constitutional amendment proposals requiring a balanced budget at least four times. At least part of the reason Congress does not want to be required to create a balanced budget is that such a requirement would limit the pork-barrel spending and earmarks members of Congress attach to almost every bill they see. They also like to hand out our tax money as aid like beads at a Mardi Gras parade. Not to mention, the politicians who try to buy our votes with “free stuff”. All of these practices would be much more difficult with the requirement of a balanced federal budget.

Our federal government doesn’t care that they are spending our money and our children’s money. Congress doesn’t care about fiscal responsibility. Congress doesn’t care about deadlines or commitments. Congress only cares about growing the power of the federal government. A colossal national debt is just one more tool that Congress uses to lord over the taxpayer.

Between congressional salaries, staff salaries, and office administration costs, Congress itself costs we the taxpayers $2 million a day, every day. For $2 million a day they should be able to pass a budget on time. For $2 million a day they should be able to come up with a plan to shrink the national debt. Take into account that Congress is actually in session and working for on average about 150 days a year and that cost goes up to over $5 million per day of work. Think about that the next time you see frivolous hearings about issues nobody cares about or the next time Congress passes some silly resolution that really doesn’t do anything.

The average full-time wage in the United States is just over $47,000. Congress makes over three and a half times that, while working half as many days. Since 1976 Congress has a 9% success rate for passing a budget on time. Anyone else with a 9% success rate at work would be fired. Maybe it is time we elect people to Congress who care about fiscal responsibility, deadlines, commitments and are willing to earn their $174,000 a year.



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©2019 by Peter Angelo Serefine