At this point, Americans on every imaginable side of the deficit debate agree that federal spending is out of control. Something must be done—but the question is, what, and how, and by whom? Lawmakers on Capitol Hill talk about deficit reduction an awful lot—so why haven’t they done anything about it yet?
A recent article in The Hill highlights comments made by Heritage scholar Stuart Butler at a recent discussion sponsored by the Raben Group, a Democratic lobbying firm. Butler pointed out that the problem with addressing out-of-control federal spending may not simply be a question of policy but rather of politics—in other words, it’s the process, not the ideas, that is getting in the way. Explains Butler, “It’s an issue of how we make decisions in this country. … Somehow, the process has not delivered a solution.”
The Hill highlights the several solutions to budget process gridlock that Butler provided, including requiring the Congressional Budget Office to acknowledge the long-term effects of legislative proposals and engaging the public, since it would be easier to make serious reform proposals if those it affected were aware of the problem. Finally, Butler called for serious changes to policy beyond the calls for spending cuts and tax increases that are generally thrown about. In order to permanently solve the federal government’s fiscal crisis, entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security must be reformed and put on a sustainable track.
Additional Heritage ideas to reform the budget process include instilling greater transparency in the process so that lawmakers are held accountable with the current and future realities of both discretionary and mandatory spending. In addition, Congress should explore putting the three big entitlement programs on a long-term budget and capping spending. Finally, Butler has written before on the necessity for Congress to “bank the bucks first”—meaning that lawmakers should accrue savings by implementing changes and realizing real spending reductions first before they increase spending rather than making dubious promises of future savings that may or may not occur. This is how Americans manage their own budgets—it’s time Washington followed suit.