Now comes the not-so-fun part.
It is awfully easy to talk about cutting spending. It is awfully easy to talk about shrinking government. It is awfully hard to actually do it.
Over the next several months, the Congress is going to take on three big challenges that have implications for the future fiscal health of the country.
First, it has to decide how to fund the government this year. Second, it has to figure out if and when it is going to allow the government to go deeper in debt. Third, it’s going to produce a budget for the next year.
Last year, the Democrats basically punted on two out of the three decisions. They didn’t pass the spending bills for this year, so the government has been functioning under a continuing resolution. They also didn’t bother to pass a budget, because they didn’t want to make any tough decisions that may have angered the voters.
They did extend the debt limit, though, because if they didn’t, the troops wouldn’t have been paid and Social Security checks wouldn’t have gone out.
The new Republican/Tea Party class, full of vim and vinegar, isn’t going to punt this time around. They are going to confront the budget and all of its implications.
The Republican Study Committee has helped define the debate by putting out a wish list of top spending-cut priorities. Their priorities are not necessarily the priorities of the Senate or of the majority of the American people, but they are a useful start to a discussion.
Liberal Democrats don’t like to start any budget discussion by talking about spending cuts. They like to start the discussion by talking about how little the American people are paying in taxes.
The problem for the liberals is that they don’t have the votes (or the will) to raise taxes. They had huge majorities in both the House and the Senate just three months ago, and they couldn’t find enough votes to raise taxes. They had their chance to bring more revenue into the government
So what the Democrats really want is for Republicans to raise taxes for them. That is not likely to happen anytime soon.
The House is going to start the debate by focusing first on discretionary spending. You have to start somewhere, and discretionary spending is as good a place to start as any.
Unfortunately, non-defense discretionary spending (which means all of the spending outside of the Pentagon, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and some other welfare-like entitlement programs) is a decreasingly important part of the budget.
Discretionary spending needs to be reduced quickly to deal with our short-term deficit problems, which are immense. But if you want to get serious about our long-term debt problems, the discretionary spending fight is a real distraction.
The truth is that if we as a nation are going to come to grips with both our short- and long-term fiscal problems, we are all going to have to pitch in.
Every part of the budget is going to have to take a hit. Rich and poor, rural and urban, black and white, everybody is going to have to expect less from the government. Cutting discretionary spending is not enough. Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, agriculture, transportation, every single part of the budget is going to have to take at least a haircut.
Shared sacrifice should be the message coming out of Washington. That is the only way we will get a fiscally responsible budget.
Now comes the not-so-fun part.