Brad Rogers: Some scary numbers ahead
The national debt is knocking on $20 trillion and the federal budget keeps growing, despite political gamesmanship aimed at making us think otherwise. So when Congressman Ted Yoho stopped by the office the other day, it was not surprising that the conservative from Gainesville, who represents the northern half of Marion County, wanted to talk numbers.
He’s worried, like many of constituents, no doubt. He grabbed my legal pad and started drawing graphs and writing numbers. What he put down is deserving of our attention.
The federal budget is split into two categories — mandatory spending and discretionary spending. Yoho said among the mandatory spending is Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, federal retirement programs and nutritional programs like food stamps. On the discretionary side, you have the military and all other federal programs. This year there’s about $3.2 trillion in mandatory spending and $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending.
Here’s the problem. Today the split is about 69 percent mandatory and 31 percent discretionary, Yoho said. In 1964 — way back when — it was just the opposite, 68 percent discretionary and 32 percent mandatory.
Now here’s what’s coming. At current spending rates, the congressman said, within five to seven years mandatory spending will account for 80 percent of the federal budget and discretionary programs will consume 20 percent of the budget, and interest on the debt alone will hit $750 billion a year.
Here’s an even scarier number from the congressman. If something isn’t done, and soon, in 10-12 years those enjoying Social Security benefits will likely see a 25 percent cut in benefits. Yes, that’s 25 percent.
Alas, Houston, we have a problem.
Like most of us, Yoho does not have a quick and easy answer for this mess that has taken three generations to create. But without doubt something must be done. We’ll probably have to pay more and get less. Qualifying for government assistance will likely get harder. Some things will just have to go away.
Yet, we have had numerous blue-ribbon commissions, the most famous being Simpson-Bowles, that have laid out a road map for stopping the fiscal downward spiral, yet we — that is all of us Americans, from Washington to Ocala — just don’t want to give up anything that makes our lives better. It’s human nature. And, after all, the government can always find money, right?
Yoho could have talked about the growing Asian crisis, since he’s the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific (he’s all over the North Korean craziness) or changing agriculture in his North Florida district or President Trump. But he didn’t want to talk much about any of those, because he said the budget/debt crisis is the biggest threat to the nation today.
I’m not sure if, or when, Congress will start making the really hard decisions to get the country’s fiscal house in order, but rest assured the day of reckoning is coming. I would suggest everyone — and I mean everyone — be asked to give a little more and take a little less. That includes the Fortune 500 companies, Big Ag, the military and our ridiculously expanding higher education system. Yes, old folks are going to have to give a little, too. And rest assured, it will all be unpleasant, if not painful.
But if the numbers Yoho scratched down on my legal pad are right, the inconvenience of everyone giving a little will be a lot less painful that what’s waiting for us a decade down the road. A 25 percent cut in Social Security benefits? Unimaginable.