On Getting Serious

 

I spent yesterday afternoon debating spending and the deficit with some fellow local Republicans. My view on the subject is really quite simple: Cut it all. There is no program, no department, so sacred that it shouldn’t be cut in some fashion.

That said, we have to talk about the Big Three: Social Security, Medicare, and the military. These three spending categories together represented 74 percent of federal spending in 2015, according to these guys. If you are going to do something about the $500 billion in overspending, you have to do something in these three areas. Period. It’s just math.

Now, in my discussions with my fellow Republicans, very few have agreed with me. They say cut foreign aid (1 percent), or cut the EPA and USDA (~4 percent combined). One person offered up a list of eight wasteful programs that combined make up about $20 million in spending. But cut Social Security? Medicare? Hello no!

This brings me to my point. One of the people I was discussing this with said he was fed up with Washington for not getting serious about dealing with the deficit. Even here on Ricochet I see folks angry that none of the presidential candidates are talking about dealing with the deficit. Folks, they aren’t serious, because we aren’t serious. And until we are ready to take a hatchet to our sacred cows, we won’t be serious. And it’s time we got serious.

(Note: I’m not being sarcastic.)

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I completely agree. I’ve told my friends that I’m willing, at 66 years old, to take a cut in my social security payments. We are fortunate to have enough money put away that we could take the hit. I think those who are in the same position ought to step up. And those people who will qualify some day should plan ahead without depending on social security and Medicare to take care of them.

    • #1
  2. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    All that free stuff is more than we can afford.

    • #2
  3. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I am listening right now to very senior executives at Northrop Grumman talk about how they pursue and “win” military contracts in the US and with its allies. And I am reminded of how incredibly broken the Pentagon and its acquisition processes are.

    The F-35? A complete turkey, despite enormous investments. Similarly true for the latest warships, and a host of other programs and systems. I am hard-pressed to think of anything that is truly beating expectations.

    The taxpayer is not getting anything like value for money. Forget outsourcing the hardware. We really should try outsourcing the mission and let those who acquire the mission decide how it should be done, with which equipment, etc.  That would close the loop, keeping everyone in the entire loop focused on mission success as the prize.

    • #3
  4. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    I think, with the exception of defense, you will have a very rough time convincing the people to do anything with Soc Sec of Medicare because on some level they have been conditioned to think that those two items will A) be there forever and B) do not need to be fixed–that they aren’t the problem. The 8 programs totaling $20 million is a bigger problem to them than the billions spent through Medicare. That’s the hurdle. People think Medicare is the only thing keeping seniors from dying in the streets while EPA or USDA have absolutely zero visible impact on their lives and thus, cut it. Never mind the fact that it will do only minimal damage to the overall debt.

    • #4
  5. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Spin, You’re absolutely right – math is math and wishful thinking is wishful thinking.  We Americans are not serious about cutting, and we are not going to get serious about it.

    That means that the only answer is to fight against new spending, and encourage economic growth.  I’m not sure if we can grow our way out of this mess, but that is the only chance we have.

    Of course, saying this will get me (and you) dismissed as part of the “Establishment.”  I’ve wondered a lot about what makes someone part of the “Establishment,” and I’m now thinking that it has something to do with the ability to do simple arithmetic.

    • #5
  6. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    iWe:I am listening right now to very senior executives at Northrop Grumman talk about how they pursue and “win” military contracts in the US and with its allies. And I am reminded of how incredibly broken the Pentagon and its acquisition processes are.

    The F-35? A complete turkey, despite enormous investments. Similarly true for the latest warships, and a host of other programs and systems. I am hard-pressed to think of anything that is truly beating expectations.

    The taxpayer is not getting anything like value for money. Forget outsourcing the hardware. We really should try outsourcing the mission and let those who acquire the mission decide how it should be done, with which equipment, etc. That would close the loop, keeping everyone in the entire loop focused on mission success as the prize.

    The best sign of civilization collapse is the means with which it wastes money on military implements that are substandard in design and in effectiveness.

    • #6
  7. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Susan Quinn:I completely agree. I’ve told my friends that I’m willing, at 66 years old, to take a cut in my social security payments. We are fortunate to have enough money put away that we could take the hit. I think those who are in the same position ought to step up. And those people who will qualify some day should plan ahead without depending on social security and Medicare to take care of them.

    Much as socons get a bad wrap for the inference that to live according to the socon way is to live a horrible, bland, and impossible chaste and virtuous existence, the hard fiscal hearts get a bad wrap for expecting people to live in one room apartments with barely any of the modern “necessities” like internet, 2 TV’s, cell phone, indoor plumbing, or anything more than a single light bulb hanging in  the middle of the room.

    As someone who usually falls into both camps, I can admit that on both counts it’s sometimes deserved. Because with the incomes the way they are and fiscal policy geared toward a minimum 2% inflation, that’s exactly what people would need to do in order to “plan ahead” for retirement. Even aside from the luxuries, many people live paycheck to paycheck without taking trips or eating out all the time.

    • #7
  8. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    I’m not saying that hardship justifies government largesse or that profligacy is a myth, but I am saying that “just plan ahead” as an argument will turn away anyone who’d love an opportunity for planning and saving to be an option.

    • #8
  9. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Our military does not (yet) lose because it is outclassed in equipment. It loses wars when the nation lacks the will to wage and win.

    Our comparative weaknesses are in our heads.

    That said, the way we waste money is awful beyond words.

    • #9
  10. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    I agree with your concerns.

    I think it needs to be broken down further. Medicare and Social Security are funded (please allow wide berth on using that word) via separate payroll taxes with their own issues.

    Defense is a Constitutionally enumerated power and responsibility.

    All else has to be on the table and every program, bureau, etc. we eliminate makes the choices on the previously aforementioned programs easier. The biggest driver of our debt problem is Medicaid in the Obamacare era.

    Your debate with your associates dovetails nicely with Saint’s Main Feed post about has conservatism failed. As long as conservatives are committed to preserving the foolish mistakes of the past we will never get a serious discussion about spending on our terms.

    At some point we will have the discussion on the market’s terms, but the timing is unknowable except that each day we are a day closer.

    • #10
  11. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    I’m comfortable with our level of military spending. It’s a clear Constitutional function and it’s percentage of GDP has been declining.

    Social Security is not clearly Constitutional. It is, however, relatively easy to tweak into solvency. It’s more amenable to gradual reform: adjustments to cost of living increases, etc.

    Medicare and Medicaid are neither Constitutional nor solvent. They take up about the same proportion of the budget as Social Security on a much lower tax base. They also distort what little remains of the private health care market.

    I’m resigned to this scenario: Medicare and Medicaid need to collapse before there’s a radical transformation in these programs to a more sustainable model.

    • #11
  12. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    iWe:Our military does not (yet) lose because it is outclassed in equipment. It loses wars when the nation lacks the will to wage and win.

    Our comparative weaknesses are in our heads.

    I think we have many self induced via the federal bureaucracy weaknesses that are more than just perceived, but agree with your fundamental notion.

    That said, the way we waste money is awful beyond words.

    • #12
  13. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I don’t know much about Medicare, but there are a number of ways to lower the SS price tag that, while likely unpopular (what isn’t?), don’t seem terribly difficult. Means testing is first, followed by a gradual increase in the retirement age for people below, say, 30. Fair? Perhaps not, but we have no choice.

    Can you have a strong national defense and spend efficiently? I hope so. It bothers me when deficit hawks try to work around bloat and inefficiency at the Pentagon. Reducing the size of government has to include a keen eye there, and, if done right, doesn’t have to affect obligations to personnel.

    • #13
  14. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Robert McReynolds:

    iWe:I am listening right now to very senior executives at Northrop Grumman talk about how they pursue and “win” military contracts in the US and with its allies. And I am reminded of how incredibly broken the Pentagon and its acquisition processes are.

    The F-35? A complete turkey, despite enormous investments. Similarly true for the latest warships, and a host of other programs and systems. I am hard-pressed to think of anything that is truly beating expectations.

    The taxpayer is not getting anything like value for money. Forget outsourcing the hardware. We really should try outsourcing the mission and let those who acquire the mission decide how it should be done, with which equipment, etc. That would close the loop, keeping everyone in the entire loop focused on mission success as the prize.

    The best sign of civilization collapse is the means with which it wastes money on military implements that are substandard in design and in effectiveness.

    Well, the father of a friend of mine lost a big government/military job in the early 1960s because he fought against an unwise but politically connected military expense. So I guess we collapsed 50 years ago or more.

    • #14
  15. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    BrentB67:Your debate with your associates dovetails nicely with Saint’s Main Feed post about has conservatism failed. As long as conservatives are committed to preserving the foolish mistakes of the past we will never get a serious discussion about spending on our terms.

    Great point. So much of the profligate spending on health is about trying to create the New Earth on our own:

    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

    Immamentizing the eschaton indeed.

    • #15
  16. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I’ve said before that Social Security is a lie. It was sold to the American people with a lie, and even when the truth was told to them by the Supreme Court they continue to believe the lie. It. Is. A. Welfare. Program. Period.

    • #16
  17. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Larry3435: That means that the only answer is to fight against new spending, and encourage economic growth. I’m not sure if we can grow our way out of this mess, but that is the only chance we have.

    Which is where the cuts to programs like the EPA, etc come into play.  Deregulating the economy and getting growth going again is a necessity.

    It is also insufficient, but you gotta start somewhere.

    • #17
  18. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    SS can’t be changed for older people with the exception of means testing for wealthier people, since many have been promised it all their lives, paid into it and planned on it.  I favor means testing, though it wouldn’t be to our advantage.  Younger people should be allowed to put part of their money into their own personal account where it will grow and then part of their money will go to finish out the old system as Boomers go the way of all the earth.  They should jump on that because they will be better off.

    If we can get rid of Obamacare and let the market come up with some solutions for the high cost of medicine, that will help reduce the cost of Medicare  And give the states block grants so they can find some solutions.  Calling Mike Lee, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio!

    • #18
  19. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Lucy Pevensie:Well, the father of a friend of mine lost a big government/military job in the early 1960s because he fought against an unwise but politically connected military expense. So I guess we collapsed 50 years ago or more.

    By the way, this comment is not just by way of snark. I’m trying to say that wherever you have government, there will you have graft, and there is no way to avoid having government involvement in military spending.  This will be a battle that we must always fight and will never have completely won.

    • #19
  20. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Step 1: start and own the conversation clarifying what Social Security is and isn’t. Most people think of it as a retirement fund they pay into. As Ricochet will loudly tell you, the Supreme Court said decades ago that that isn’t the case. Yet the perception persists, so the first step is to boldly change that perception. Good thing the truth is on our side. Step 2 is to bring it onto the budget to clarify the mess.

    Regarding Medicare, step 1 is to devolve this to the states and let them struggle with how to provide this care responsibly. I have favored municipal medical facilities, but I’m sure there’d be other options. I suspect that Fricosis Guy is correct that insolvency will be the only spur to action.

    • #20
  21. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    In the next 20 years government spending will account for over 40 percent of our GDP (or is it GNP.  I’m not an economist so bear with me.  I hope you all get the gist).   Social Security and Medicare will go deeply into debt due to our large aging population.  Of course these programs wont go away.  These debts will be financed either thru more debt although I don’t know how much more debt we can handle and/ or higher taxation.  I’m hoping we’re logical enough to make changes on the periphery like raising the retirement age and instituting means testing.  These changes will mitigate the costs a little but we’re stuck with trillions in payments to the elderly.  Basically the math adds up to a much larger welfare state.

    • #21
  22. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    The lazy comparisons between the Trump and Perot phenomena fall apart here.

    Perot was a small, smart, decidedly weird fellow whose campaign was based on a set of straightforward charts depicting a menacing future of spending, deficits, legal/illegal immigration.

    The Donald will make us great, send all illegals on a roundtrip, and take care of all the people.

    I am hoping for the Kevin Williamson scenario.  I still can’t wrap my decidedly non-genius brain around our predicament.  Total federal spending is nearing $50,000 per family of four (somewhat quaint but useful divisor).

    That’s just federal direct spending.  State and local direct spending (no pass-throughs) will soon hit $50,000 per family of four.

    Within two years, when the median family income nears $60,000, total spending will near $100,000.

    Hopefully Williamson is right.  We will start to fix this problem when we have no other choice.

    The other scenario is scarier:  an unimaginably long period of American mediocrity.  Tidal wave of hardworking, thankful immigrants supporting our demographic bubble of aging white folks. America as a strong, internationally influential power with a Second World economy.  Rather Roman.

    • #22
  23. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    Ed G.:Step 1: start and own the conversation clarifying what Social Security is and isn’t. Most people think of it as a retirement fund they pay into. As Ricochet will loudly tell you, the Supreme Court said decades ago that that isn’t the case. Yet the perception persists, so the first step is to boldly change that perception. Good thing the truth is on our side. Step 2 is to bring it onto the budget to clarify the mess.

    Regarding Medicare, step 1 is to devolve this to the states and let them struggle with how to provide this care responsibly. I have favored municipal medical facilities, but I’m sure there’d be other options. I suspect that Fricosis Guy is correct that insolvency will be the only spur to action.

    These programs will never become insolvent.  They may run out of money but they’ll be covered by other means.  These aren’t independent funds anyway.

    • #23
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Ed G.: Because with the incomes the way they are and fiscal policy geared toward a minimum 2% inflation, that’s exactly what people would need to do in order to “plan ahead” for retirement. Even aside from the luxuries, many people live paycheck to paycheck without taking trips or eating out all the time.

    Ed, I know this last part is true. But I’d submit to you (and I’m not saying this is true for you), many people don’t know how to budget; they think that their wants are needs; and they will want to continue to support the now-entrenched myth that they are owed this money from the government.

    • #24
  25. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Merina Smith: …paid into it…

    Stop saying that. It is the lie. They were taxed. Period. Full stop. Once government confiscates money through taxation it can be directed to anything the government deems worthy irrespective of any promises made ever.

    • #25
  26. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Our military even in war time consumes the 50 year average.

    Our problems are SS, Medicare, Health, and Income Security.

    Spending less on the military may be desirable in and of itself, but it shouldn’t be premised on consuming an inordinately large portion of the budget.  If we do cut the military it will be purely to avoid cuts to the above which do consume an escalating amount of budget.

    Every single thing the government does is worse off -including the military- because of those 4 programs.  Government sucks because we painfully underinvest in it, to avoid making unpopular cuts to entitlements.

    • #26
  27. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    iWe:I am listening right now to very senior executives at Northrop Grumman talk about how they pursue and “win” military contracts in the US and with its allies. And I am reminded of how incredibly broken the Pentagon and its acquisition processes are.

    The F-35? A complete turkey, despite enormous investments.

    I have been skeptical of the F-35 since I saw the first prototypes being built at Palmdale in the 90’s, but in the plane’s defense it does have the potential to eliminate the need for full sized aircraft carriers with its STOVL and CATOBAR capabilities.  Full sized aircraft carriers may become too expensive and too vulnerable to form the backbone of our Navy.  So the F-35 does make a certain kind of sense.

    Then again, I am one of those who believes that unmanned fighters will soon displace piloted fighter planes, so it may all become moot.

    • #27
  28. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    thelonious:

    Ed G.:Step 1: start and own the conversation clarifying what Social Security is and isn’t. Most people think of it as a retirement fund they pay into. As Ricochet will loudly tell you, the Supreme Court said decades ago that that isn’t the case. Yet the perception persists, so the first step is to boldly change that perception. Good thing the truth is on our side. Step 2 is to bring it onto the budget to clarify the mess.

    Regarding Medicare, step 1 is to devolve this to the states and let them struggle with how to provide this care responsibly. I have favored municipal medical facilities, but I’m sure there’d be other options. I suspect that Fricosis Guy is correct that insolvency will be the only spur to action.

    These programs will never become insolvent. They may run out of money but they’ll be covered by other means. These aren’t independent funds anyway.

    Yes…insolvency is an accounting fiction that they’ll rejigger. My guess is that the Medicaid burden on states is what’ll provoke a crisis.

    • #28
  29. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    Lucy Pevensie:

    Lucy Pevensie:Well, the father of a friend of mine lost a big government/military job in the early 1960s because he fought against an unwise but politically connected military expense. So I guess we collapsed 50 years ago or more.

    By the way, this comment is not just by way of snark. I’m trying to say that wherever you have government, there will you have graft, and there is no way to avoid having government involvement in military spending. This will be a battle that we must always fight and will never have completely won.

    I completely agree with your first statement, but not the second. The problem is that we, the collective “we,” have equated military spending with supporting the 18 year old E-1 and any attempt to cut the spending will hurt the E-1. We need political leadership that will stand before the people and tell them that is not the case. The E-1 will not be harmed by reforming the acquisition process of the Pentagon and spending priorities of Combatant Commanders. Remember just last week we had a Stars and Stripes article mentioned by the Ricochet Editors that tried to blame a night time exercise crash on budget cuts. The higher ranking military personnel are no different than your executive level bureaucrat in terms of demagoguing for money, they just wear a different suit.

    • #29
  30. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Realistically speaking the U.S. is broke and has been for 30 years, but no one really wants to admit that so we all pretend that trimming a few things here and there is all we need.

    My entitlement program is really simple: you can work or you can starve.

    Did you fail to invest or the market crashed and wiped out your retirement savings? Work a job until you die.

    Can’t get a job? Go talk to your family and hope they’ll take care of you.

    Don’t have a family or they can’t help you? Go talk to a private charity and hope they can help.

    Charity can’t help? Too bad.

    What you should not be able to do is rely on a protection-racket (which is what government taxation is) to force other people to pay for your upkeep because you failed to plan ahead.

    There is a zero chance that anyone expressing those sentiments will be elected or keep office however so we’ll keep on spending until we go the way of the Weimar Republic.

    • #30

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