DOUG ROSS: How to balance the federal budget

NWI Times

President Donald Trump’s budget will include a 10 percent increase for military spending and a commensurate cut for social programs, the world was told this week. Last week’s exercise in balancing the federal budget puts that decision in perspective.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and theConcord Coalition, a nonpartisan group promoting fiscal responsibility, asked residents of the 1st Congressional District to make the tough decisions necessary to balance the budget and reduce the national debt.

The team I was on made decisions that, if they were made in Congress, would have cut the national debt by just under $2.4 trillion.

 

If only Congress would do that, too.

Visclosky has been in office long enough to remember when, in the 1990s, the budget was balanced. It isn’t that Congress can’t balance the budget; it’s that it hasn’t been able to find the common ground to do so in this highly partisan era.

The majority of congressmen, including Visclosky, are eager and able to make tough decisions that require compromises. But extremists at both ends of the political spectrum have made gridlock the new status quo when it comes to responsible budgeting.

It’s now March, nearly halfway through the federal fiscal year, and Congress is operating on continuing resolutions that maintain the status quo rather than making tough choices about where to increase spending and where to cut it.

I participated in the federal budget exercise last week, and the insights from my table were worth sharing.

The group voted not to cut funding for the arts — “You’ve got to have culture,” a participant said — or for human exploration of space. “Everything in that (smart)phone came from NASA and space exploration,” another said. Products like freeze-dried foods and flame-resistant textiles* came fromNASA technologytransferred to the private sector.

Research and development, particularly in the energy industry, were kept in our budget as ways to reduce spending in the future, through new technology, and to enhance national security.

Some of the participants were wary of increasing spending for the military, pointing out instances like $800 shells that turned out to be duds as wasteful spending.

Another participant said the United States spends more on the military than the next eight countries combined. I crunched data from theStockholm International Peace Research Instituteon Monday. He’s wrong, but barely. It’s more than the next seven countries combined.

The United States spends nearly 2.8 times as much on the military as China, the second-biggest military spender.

As I walked the group through discussion of our decisions — we went by majority vote, and few were unanimous — I asked them to reflect on the decisions we made.

We talked about where corporations might pick up the slack if federal spending is cut and where they likely wouldn’t.

“I think defense is one thing no one is going to pay for privately,” one participant said.

That was a very good point, although how much military spending is enough is an area of considerable disagreement.

As for the overall budget decisions made during the 90-minute exercise, one of the participants summed it up well:

“We increased taxes on the wealthy. We cut Social Security. I don’t think any of us is getting re-elected.”