Issue in Focus
May 11 2018
Over the next ten years, our national debt is set to almost double, going from around $15 trillion today to more than $28 trillion in 2028. Debt as a percentage of our entire economy is set to grow from 76.5 percent today to 96.2 percent in 2028, a level not reached since the end of World War II.
Net interest payments on that debt are set to grow from about $300 billion a year now, to more than $900 billion in 2028. And that assumes that interest rates stay below historic averages. If interest rates were to return just to historical averages taxpayers will soon be drowning in annual trillion dollar interest payments.
This has to change. If we do not find the will to reduce federal spending ourselves now, at some point economic reality will force us to do in a much more painful manner later.
That is why this week’s White House request for 38 spending rescissions totaling $15 billion in rescinded spending is such a welcome first step to bringing our out-of-control spending habit back in line.
A provision of the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, the rescission process established a set of rules that make it easier for the president and Congress to reduce previously appropriated federal spending.
First, the president must submit a rescission request to Congress, then the relevant committees have 25 days to act on the request before any member can discharge the request and force a floor vote. Rescission motions are considered “privileged” in the Senate, so both chambers can pass a rescission package by a simple majority.
In 1981, President Reagan used this process to request 133 separate rescissions to cut more than $15 billion in federal spending. He made another 245 requests in 1985 and another 83 in 1986 to cut more than $16 billion in federal spending.
Unfortunately, the rescission process has fallen out of use in recent years, with President Clinton making just three rescission requests in 2000 for just $128 million. President Obama made zero rescission requests his entire presidency.
None of the funds President Trump requested to cut will alter current federal programs in any way. For example, the Congressional Budget Office certified that the approximately $7 billion in Children’s Health Insurance Program would “not affect outlays, or the number of individuals with insurance coverage.”
Essentially all the money President Trump requested to be cut is sitting unused in government agency bank accounts. So how does it help to cut spending if this money is just sitting there? Because Congress has a nasty habit of “paying for” new spending by raiding these unused funds. If we can take back this money now, then Congress can’t use the money to “pay for” new spending later.
Yes, $15 billion is a drop in the bucket compared to $15 trillion. But we have to start cutting spending somewhere. Because if we don’t, if we continue to allow federal government spending to grow faster than the economy as a whole, we will drown our children in debt.