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March 21, 2017

The Debt Ceiling's Baaaaack! What Will Republicans Do?


Republicans repeatedly challenged President Obama’s overspending every time the debt ceiling came up. 

Congress temporarily suspended the debt ceiling in November of 2015 as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act—the 15th time Congress has had to address the issue since 2001. Well, the issue returned on March 15

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin sent House Speaker Paul Ryan a letter explaining that the Treasury will begin cash management procedures, which could postpone drastic measures for several months. 

President Donald Trump has submitted his proposed budget that cuts $54 billion to some federal agencies and programs, but that figure is offset by a $54 billion increase in defense spending—retaining a nearly $500 billion federal deficit for the year. 

Many Republicans, both in Congress and the states, were decrying even those relatively minor proposed spending cuts. 

Frankly, those who care about government overspending and the $20 trillion federal debt will have to keep up pressure on Republicans, or they will spend as much as Democrats. 

What are our options for reducing federal spending?  Here are four. 

Entitlement reform — As a first step Republicans want to allow states to impose a work requirement for Medicaid. Actually, a strong work requirement—either a regular job or some type of public work—for non-disabled people should be part of any means-tested program. Effectively applied, we would see millions drop off the welfare rolls—as we did in 1996—saving the country hundreds of billions of dollars. 

It’s not sweeping entitlement reform, at least not yet, but it’s a start. 

Bring back the sequesterThe budget sequester, which began in 2013, was the most effective policy yet in actually controlling federal spending—which is why Congress kept whittling away at it. Some version needs to be passed again by members of Congress who don’t have their fingers crossed behind their backs. 

Sunsetting and zero-based budgeting — All spending laws—especially those that create new federal agencies—need to have a sunset provision. Congress can reauthorize them if members want. In addition, there should be no carryover of budgets. Every federal agency budget should be zeroed out at the end of the year, with the agency making the case why it deserves taxpayer money. 

Cut the federal workforce — One way to cut spending is to cut some of the 1.4 million federal workers. All of these individuals are interest groups who want more money for themselves and their budgets. Cutting their budgets is one way to do it, but it needs to be easier to fire them for cause. Helping them move to the private sector decreases federal spending, both in wages and projects, and increases revenue—because they become taxpayers rather than tax takers.


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