In October, Congress will have two choices on the budget: raise the debt ceiling or put it on Cruz control. Cruz being U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and hero to tea party mavens nationwide. He’s the senator who just spent 21 hours holding up a bill he supports because of procedural yadda, yadda, yadda.
We’d go into more detail, but it’s just D.C. gobbledygook. Suffice it to say he wants something he can’t have, which is how the tea party identifies heroes. After his non-filibuster that accomplished nothing, the Tea Party Express – not to be confused with XXXtreme Espresso – rushed out this obscene press release:
“This speech wasn’t just historic - what Ted Cruz did was epic,” said Chairwoman Amy Kremer. “He made good on his promises and displayed courage rarely seen in modern politics.”
So epic, in fact, that he joined the other 99 senators in voting to cut him off, which might very well be historic.
The federal budget presents a serious concern, and the Congressional Budget Office recently released a report on where the problems lie. It’s Medicare and Social Security. It’s not food stamps, the new health care exchanges and other items that make up discretionary spending, which is that portion of the budget that Congress needs to approve each year. Yet here we are on the precipice of another showdown over 30 percent of the budget.
It’s like arguing over the cost of a cab en route to a Caribbean cruise.
According to the Office of Management and Budget, discretionary spending for 2014 is set to be $1.15 trillion. By comparison, the government is offering $1.18 trillion in tax breaks. But that “spending” isn’t subject to the annual appropriations process. Neither is mandatory spending, which makes up 64 percent of the budget. The remaining 6 percent is interest on the debt.
What the recent CBO report suggests is that if we really want to get long-term deficits and debt under control, it’s the mandatory spending, the kind that isn’t subject to showdowns and sequesters, that needs to be targeted. An overhaul of the tax code is in order, too. This is no surprise. CBO began its long-term prognostications in 1996. At that time, according to CBS Marketwatch, it said “debt by 2015 would be either 78 percent or 83 percent of GDP … now the CBO is forecasting a ratio of 72 percent of GDP.”
So, while we’re in bad fiscal shape, Congress was told it would be worse by now, and it has failed to respond. But it has found new and melodramatic ways of doing nothing. Our nation’s leaders have had the road map for a long time, but it keeps choosing to cruise into dead ends. The only difference this time is the guy behind the wheel leaned on the horn the entire way.
Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling to forestall the damage to the economy. Besides, shutting down the government just adds to the deficit. Then our nation’s leaders must launch a long-term, bipartisan effort to produce what it claims to want: a healthy, sustainable budget.
Now that would be courageous.