At this very moment, the national debt sits at over $18 trillion dollars, and it shows no signs of going down anytime soon. Our spending problems are reaching crisis level, and we are set to leave behind a catastrophe for the next generation.
Take my grandson MacGuire for example. Before his first birthday, his share of the national debt is already over $40,000. We cannot turn a blind eye to this problem and pretend that it will just get better. Congress must get serious about reining in spending.
As you may know, there are two basic types of federal spending: mandatory and discretionary.
Discretionary spending is what most people think of as essential government functions. This is money that goes to things like our military, highways, national parks, agriculture, and medical research. The good thing about discretionary spending is that each year Congress has the ability to set these spending levels through the appropriations process.
Discretionary spending has become a smaller and smaller portion of the federal budget over the last few decades. In fact, it now makes up only around one-third of all federal spending.
Mandatory spending, along with the interest on the debt, makes up the other two-thirds of the federal budget. However, unlike discretionary spending, mandatory spending does not require an annual appropriation from Congress. As long as someone meets the requirements, these programs dole out money without any action from Congress.
Within mandatory spending are what we call means based entitlement programs. This includes programs like Medicaid, Obamacare, food stamps, and other welfare programs. While some of these programs serve an important purpose, there are serious questions about their effectiveness as costs skyrocket.
In Fiscal Year 2012 alone, the federal government spent almost $800 billion on over 92 various programs aimed at lifting Americans out of poverty. Despite that record spending, too many Americans simply stopped looking for work. The system is clearly failing the very people it was designed to help.
It is not a surprise that spending on these programs increased during the recent economic downturn, but it is surprising that spending on these programs continues to rise even as the economy improves. I fear that these programs are actually driving up the national debt and fueling a dangerous cycle of government dependence.
I believe we must reform these programs and put a real focus on job training to help connect Americans with the skills they need to find work. We could block grant money to the state governments each year and allow individual states to craft poverty fighting programs based on their state’s specific societal and economic needs.
Why is it so critical we get mandatory spending under control? In 1965, only 34% of the federal budget was consumed by mandatory spending programs. In 2014, over 66% of the budget was made up of mandatory spending. Without action, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2040, over 75% of federal spending will be on auto-pilot.
That would leave only 25% of the budget to go towards some of the federal governments most basic responsibilities, like providing for the common defense.
I know that reforming these programs will not be easy, but I did not run for Congress to make easy decisions. Before I leave Congress, I want to be able to look my grandson MacGuire in the eyes and know that I have been a part of a real effort to rein in spending and put our nation on a fiscally stable path for the next generation.
I hope my colleagues will join me in addressing our nation’s spending crisis and working toward a better future for the next generation.
Bradley Byrne is a member of the U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.