The White House has just announced its proposed budget for fiscal year 2011, with a projected deficit of a staggering $1.27 trillion. Last year’s budget estimated a $1.17 trillion deficit, but the actual number now appears to be $1.60 trillion. Applying that same likely growth from projection to actual deficit, we are looking at a federal budget deficit closer to $1.74 trillion this year.
The size of the deficit is unconscionable and unsustainable. As a nation, we now owe more than $12 trillion, a number almost as large as the entire GDP of the United States. Even worse, we are adding to this deficit at a rate of more than 10 percent of the GDP—an alarming rate that most economists consider dangerous for any economy.
To finance our deficit, we print money and spend it—or we borrow money and spend it. When we print the money, we set the stage for massive inflation, which will occur as soon as the economy revives. When we borrow the money, we place a lever in the hands of citizens and governments of China and other nations, now our largest creditors (surpassing the 50 percent mark two years ago). It is morally wrong to spend money now and expect our children to pay the price—and it is hazardous to give to foreign sovereigns the tools to destroy our economy if they decide to “call in” their loans.
It is our responsibility and duty to stop this. We must not condemn the next generation to economic ruin because we lack the courage to do what must be done now. As President Reagan famously said, “If not us, who? If not now, when?” If we didn’t borrow another dollar, it will still take more than 300 years just to pay back what our country already owes.
We can stop the debt from growing by lowering the federal budget deficit to zero. We’ve done it before and there’s no reason that we cannot do it again. The last time we had a balanced federal budget was in 2000. The mechanism that helped achieve this was the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, a law that has now been allowed to expire. Gramm-Rudman-Hollings required across-the-board cuts if the President and Congress did not reach agreement on set deficit reduction goals. In effect, it supplied the backbone needed to control spending when backbone was lacking. We need to restore Gramm-Rudman-Hollings at once.
We also need leaders in the House, Senate, and White House who agree that the time is now, and the responsibility is ours. I propose that we not only restore Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, but that we dramatically cut the federal budget deficit proposed by the President by more than half. We not only can achieve this, we must.
Here’s how we can achieve this:
First, cap non-defense discretionary spending to fiscal year 2009 levels for a savings of $101 billion. The White House Budget caps this item at fiscal year 2010 levels of $690 billion, but this category already grew from $589 billion in fiscal year 2009—a 30 percent increase. They let it rise by 30 percent before deciding to cap it. We should cap it at once.
To achieve this overall cap, many specific budget items in this category could be eliminated entirely including the $3 billion annual expenditure in subsidies for corn ethanol. And we should sell the portfolio of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and end any future government subsidies for them.
There is no evidence that the stimulus bill has produced the 2 million new jobs the President claims, over what the private sector would have produced if the same funds had been allowed to stay with the private sector. Yet the White House proposes increasing the amount spent from $202 billion in [delete FY] fiscal year 2009 to $353 billion in fiscal year 2010 and $232 billion in fiscal year 2011. I propose cutting this increase in spending over fiscal year 2009 in half for a savings of $292 billion.
This savings could be used to forgive the FICA tax for businesses that hire employees who have been out of work for at least two moths. Add this amount to the $33 billion the President has already proposed for tax relief to small business hiring, and we will have increased targeted assistance for new jobs ten-fold.
Use the TARP money the banks are returning to pay down the debt for a savings of $200 billion. The money was approved for a specific purpose: to buy the bad mortgages from banks. Since the banks are now returning the money, it should be used to reduce our federal borrowing. It’s not “free money,” available for other uses, as the White House has proposed.
Medicaid and SCHIP are 7 percent of the federal budget and spending in this category rose nearly 30 percent from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2010. We need to approach Medicaid and SCHIP the way we did welfare in 1996: don’t trim at the edges but announce that there will be a cap and stick with it. Doing so would save $45 billion.
Taken together, these proposals would save an estimated $750 billion in fiscal year 2010 alone, well more than half of the entire projected deficit. The time to act is now. The clock is running — for our children, our national security and America’s greatness.