Recently, I had a spirited Facebook conversation with a friend who was upset about the government shutdown. He was not happy that Yellowstone and Yosemite parks were closed because it was hurting his vacation property rental business. And like many, he blamed the tea party and the GOP.
Let’s look at some facts. Due to mandatory spending, 87 percent of the federal government was considered “essential” and unaffected by “shutdowns.” Only 13 percent requiring annual budgeting is discretionary and subject to shutdown.
The Administration chose what “nonessential” employees to furlough and decided to make it painful to the public. Called “The Washington Monument Syndrome” and the “Firemen First” principle, when facing cuts, bureaucracies always make cutbacks which hurt most. Perhaps it will also be known as the “WWII Memorial Syndrome.”
With uncharacteristic efficiency, the feds immediately shut down parks. Signs appeared virtually overnight informing citizens they weren’t allowed on public lands. Park rangers complained they were ordered to make it as difficult as possible on visitors. Even the WWII Memorial was barricaded despite Honor Flights arriving daily with aging veterans.
Meanwhile, House Republicans offered Continuing Resolutions funding all of government except for Obamacare. Obamacare is bad law, bad health policy and very unpopular amongst voters. Many legislators were honoring campaign promises to repeal it. While we may disagree with House Republicans on strategy, opposing Obamacare was well within Congress’ constitutional role.
Obamacare’s negative consequences are just now manifesting. According to CBS, two million Americans are losing their insurance and this may be the tip of the iceberg. They may also be shut out of Obamacare due to the failure of the healthcare.gov website and come Jan. 1, may have no coverage at all. This failure raises even more important questions like, if the government can’t even manage a website, how will they manage a complex $2 trillion health care program?
But there are larger issues surrounding the “shutdown” — namely runaway government spending threatening our economic freedom. Facing the reality of $17 trillion national debt and $100-plus trillion more in unfunded liabilities (Medicaid, Social Security and pensions) is just too difficult for many people. It’s far easier to blame the tea party, Americans For Prosperity and others who courageously point out this reality than to tackle the problem.
We may still have time to do what’s needed — precious little time. Congress needs to hold to the sequestered cuts already agreed to, not raise taxes on businesses or families and ensure that any debt ceiling increase be accompanied by dollar-for-dollar cuts in real spending. This is a position supported by most Americans who, when recently polled, 62 percent want “major cuts in spending” with any debt ceiling deal. Those spending reforms should be measured over the 10-year budget window and would only begin to fix our broken entitlement system. Here are a few of the suggested reforms that would save billions:
• Block grant Medicaid payments for long-term care — Save $287 billion: This allows states to adapt the program to unique population needs and provide efficiency incentives.
• Block Grant Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — Save $39.6 billion: In 2012, the feds spent $78 billion. This reform empowers states to be efficient and adaptable to recipients.
• Consolidate Overlapping and Duplicative Programs (GAO report) — Save $100 billion over 10 years: The Government Accountability Office reported we have 47 different job training programs, 80 transportation programs for the disadvantaged, 82 teacher quality programs, 56 financial literacy programs, and plenty of Defense Department redundancies.
• Reform and Reduce the Federal Workforce — Save $150 billion. The federal workforce continues growing while the private sector suffers jobs losses. Additionally, the rate of compensation far outpaces private sector commensurate jobs.
If we don’t make real cuts, but raise the debt for an 81st time this coming year, we’ve done nothing to solve the problem. What my friend and others fail to realize is that if we don’t balance the books before it’s too late, all government programs are jeopardized and untold millions would suffer. It won’t just be Yellowstone Park closing.
(Henry Kriegel is the Deputy Director of Americans For Prosperity-Montana.)