TAMPA, October 8, 2013 — Amidst breathless reporting by the media on the so-called “shutdown,” another supposed crisis looms. The federal government will reach its never-before-enforced debt ceiling on October 17. If Congress doesn’t both agree to raise the debt ceiling and appropriate money to pay the interest, the government would supposedly default on its debt.
Calling it a “ceiling” is a joke. It’s been raised 78 times since 1960. But some House Republican legislators have showed signs of digging in and doing whatever they can to keep the debt ceiling from being raised. This would render the government unable to borrow the approximately $1 trillion it needs to cover its revenue shortfalls. $1 trillion also happens to be roughly equivalent to all “discretionary” spending.
The other $2.5 trillion the government spent in 2012 was considered “mandatory spending.” Most of it goes to entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
House Republicans are expected to continue their quest to defund Obamacare during the debt ceiling fight. They’ve sent several “compromise” proposals to do so in return for passing a continuing resolution, including one to postpone Obamacare for one year. Obama and the Democrats have rejected them all, saying that postponing a law that’s already been duly passed and ruled on by SCOTUS is not a compromise.
So, here is a real compromise: Defund and postpone Obamacare for one year, accompanied by cutting total military spending to $498 billion. That would be $173 billion in cuts over 2012 spending levels, according to the White House budget report.
While Obamacare will do much more damage in higher health care costs for consumers and further distortion of the health care market, its fiscal impact on the federal government is estimated at $100 billion to $110 billion. Based upon the accuracy of past government projections, double that estimate and the Democrats are giving up a bit more than Republicans. They wouldn’t want to admit that Obamacare will cost more than estimated so they may agree. It’s a good deal for both sides.
Why $498 billion? It’s three times larger than the next largest military budget on the planet (China’s, at $166 billion). The U.S. would still spend more than the next nine military budgets combined. There is no reasonable argument to be made that this level of military spending would jeopardize the security of American citizens. War hawks will howl, but let’s be serious. No one on the planet believes that Russia is in grave danger right now. It spends $90 billion.
Together, the compromise would represent $300 billion to $400 billion in cuts to projected federal spending next year. That doesn’t erase a $1 trillion deficit, but it’s a step in the right direction.
It does not mean rendering the United States incapable of fighting a defensive war. Believe it or not, only $126 billion of the $671 billion was spent on the active wars in 2012. The rest was spent on the massive, worldwide “standing army.”
It does mean that the government may have to end its 70-year occupation of Germany. Britain and France, at a combined $120 billion in military spending, can keep an eye out for Hitler and Stalin.
Ditto for Japan and Korea.
There is plenty to criticize about the Republican Party, including its “Tea Party” contingent, but they’re right about one thing; The government can’t just keep raising the debt ceiling without making any attempt to fundamentally change Washington’s fiscal anatomy. However, they have to face the fact that military spending must be cut as dramatically as entitlement spending or the math doesn’t work.
The math doesn’t work in terms of how much longer real changes can be postponed, either. If you haven’t noticed, the Federal Reserve is currently buying $85 billion per month in Treasury bonds. That’s the equivalent of the entire $1 trillion annual federal deficit. The stated reason is stimulating the economy. It would also provide cover should there be no willing buyers of U.S. government debt.
How do we know there are?
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.