My son is five. He plays with Legos and digs old-school video games. My daughter is three. She likes dolls and is prone to uncontrollable giggling with no apparent provocation. Neither have much understanding of money, politics or partisanship. They don’t perceive danger or fret over what life will hold. The job of protecting them, and worrying about them, falls to their mom and me.
Every election cycle, politicians hit the campaign trail and bemoan Washington’s reckless spending. With Election Day in the rearview mirror, many of the same officials who cranked the warning siren will promptly leverage their renewed spending authority to reward supporters and shore up their base for the next election.
This never-ending cycle represents a grave threat to our children, the most vulnerable among us, and our national security. Real leadership, in both major parties, will be required to face this danger and secure America’s future.
If lawmakers don’t act soon to rein in government spending in a meaningful way, our children will face diminished opportunities. When the government spends beyond what is necessary to fulfill its appropriate role, it deprives people of the opportunity to invest in their communities and businesses, effectively crowding out private industry. Inevitably, companies give in and send armies of lobbyists to influence lawmakers. Success becomes rooted in taking advantage of political connections instead of helping others improve their lives, which in turn leads to fewer innovations, slower growth and a less promising future.
To compound the problem, every man, woman and child in the United States already carries a roughly $65,923 share of a national debt rapidly approaching $22 trillion. But owing the functional equivalent of a luxury SUV at birth is actually a rosy picture compared to reality.
Barring a focus on reducing our spending and lowering our debt, each of our shares will be much higher by the time my children reach adulthood. In fiscal 2018, the federal government spent $4.1 trillion, about 3 percent more than it did the previous year. Despite record tax revenues, the annual deficit reached $779 billion, adding nearly a trillion more dollars to our overall debt.
For decades, spending has consistently outpaced revenue collection, even with consistent revenue growth. In fact, looking at 1989 as a base year, cumulative revenue collections increased $19 trillion while government spending increased by $24 trillion, a difference of $5 trillion. This occurred when the compound annual growth in spending was over 0.2 percent greater than the growth in revenues. The problem is getting worse. From 2014 to 2018, the difference is nearly 1.5 percent.
Of course, these figures do not account for the tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded obligations — more than $50 trillion at the federal level (for Social Security and Medicare) and $6 trillion at the state level (for public pensions).
Spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid increased by approximately 4 percent ($73 billion) in fiscal 2018. Over the next 10 years, Social Security and health care spending are expected to increase by roughly 90 percent.
Making matters worse still, Medicare’s hospital insurance program will become insolvent in 2026, when the program will become unable to fully cover the health care costs of seniors and younger people with disabilities. Similarly, the Social Security trust funds will be depleted by 2034. Preserving these programs for the vulnerable who rely on them will require hard bipartisan work and a lot less fearmongering and grandstanding.
As the debt increases, the cost of carrying that debt increases. Spending on interest payments rose from $263 billion in fiscal 2017 to $325 billion in fiscal 2018, a whopping 23.6 percent. Debt service is projected to increase a staggering 248 percent to $915 billion in FY 2028, constraining the ability of government to satisfy core functions like national defense.
Intelligence and military officials, from Defense Secretary James Mattis to former Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, have repeatedly warned that U.S. debt represents a threat to national security.
Our current predicament is the result of short-term thinking, oriented around political gain and not what is in the best interest of our country. To continue on that path is immoral and unsustainable. It is a conscious decision to commit intergenerational theft that promises to leave our children and grandchildren a far bleaker world and jeopardize those who most need our help.
There are adults across the political spectrum who can do basic math. It’s time for those leaders to be courageous and confront Leviathan’s insatiable spending appetite now. Only by facing these issues and making hard choices can we leave a lasting legacy for those presently too young to think about much else than Super Mario Bros. and Barbies.
Russ Latino is Vice President, Economic Freedom Portfolio, at Americans for Prosperity. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.