The True Cost of New Spending

January 17, 2020

When you’re running a household or managing personal finances, there are certain basic principles that everyone generally ought to follow – at least, if you are trying to be practical and responsible with your money.

One of the most fundamental, essential principles is living within your means. You can’t spend what you don’t have, unless you take on debt. And when you do borrow money, it inevitably means you’ll have to pay interest. That means that every decision to borrow requires not just thinking about the short-term cost, but what it will cost over the long-term.

It should be no different in the federal government.

Unfortunately, Congress has flagrantly ignored these most basic, essential budgeting principles for decades.

The federal government has for years lived excessively outside of its means, racking up trillions and trillions of dollars of national debt. In fact, our nation’s outstanding public debt just surpassed $23 trillion this past October.

But in spite of that, the federal government continues to spend vast amounts of money on endless programs, adding to the already-massive deficit; all without considering the cost of the long-term interest we will have to pay.

The problem stems from the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not been instructed to include debt servicing costs in the cost estimates they produce for new legislation.

In other words, instead of weighing the real cost of new spending, Congress is routinely underestimating the cost of new programs.

All the while, debt is rising faster than our economic growth, with interest payments making up the fastest-growing part of the budget. Projections show that interest payments will reach over $800 billion within ten years. By 2021, we will spend more on interest than on children; and by 2023, we will be spending more on interest than Medicaid.

If we continue this way, the numbers will simply never add up. And inevitably, that is going to spell big trouble for us, our children, and our children’s children.

That’s why this week, I joined 67 of my colleagues in sending a bicameral, bipartisan letter to both the House and Senate Budget Committees asking them to require the CBO to include debt servicing costs in any new cost estimates that they produce. 

This will help members of Congress understand the true cost of any new program, and thus make better informed spending decisions with taxpayer dollars.

Our long-term fiscal stability – and sanity – depends on it.