Federal budget hawks, meaning anybody who thinks the government ought to try to live on the revenue it brings in each year instead of continuing to run up a deficit, are a truly endangered species in Washington these days.
Some budget-conscious congressmen, notably former House Speaker Paul Ryan, essentially gave up and went home. Others hopefully remain, though their voices are muted.
Who can blame them? President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, approved by a Republican Congress, created a $1 trillion deficit this year. That’s a number matching the Great Recession peak during the Obama administration, and you can tell excessive spending is no longer a big deal by the fact that few people object to it.
Still, the question should be asked: How is the government going to pay for everything its citizens want? That question becomes more relevant when you start looking at all the programs suggested by candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Yes, they’re trying to get attention in a very large field, which only encourages them to float big ideas. But at some point, it all becomes rather ridiculous.
For example, Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed eliminating all $1.6 trillion of student debt. He and other Democratic lawmakers also have introduced legislation to make public universities tuition-free.
Several other presidential candidates, including Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, are co-sponsors of Sanders’ bill to create “Medicare for all,” which would put all Americans under government-sponsored health care, no matter how much money they make.
Warren has a plan, as she likes to say, to provide free child care to anybody under a certain income level. Sen. Cory Booker proposes a “baby bonds plan” that would give children a federal savings account at birth that they could use for specific things when they turn 18.
Some of this stuff is so extreme that it makes the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, look tame by comparison — and that program to extend health care to the working poor is less than a decade old.
It’s pretty clear that one theme of the 2020 election is going to be which party will give taxpayers more goodies. There are unaffordable tax cuts from Trump and the Republicans, and there are unaffordable social services from the Democrats.
Both parties hope their goodies can fix the government’s deficit problem in the long run — though it’s worth pointing out that both solutions have been tried in recent decades, with varying degrees of success and failure. In fact, the only time the budget was balanced was two years during the Clinton administration, after his predecessor George H.W. Bush actually agreed to raise some taxes.
It’s pretty easy to shoot holes in the Democratic proposals. Why, for example, should rich people be offered student loan relief?
The answer is sad but obvious: Everybody just loves getting free stuff.