Once again, Congress must decide whether the raise the debt limit.
The long-term alternative, of course, would be to raise taxes sufficiently to cover our nation’s expenditures. Both are very unpopular, and conservatives oppose doing either. They want, instead, to cut spending on “big government” to make the budget balance.
This will never happen. The entire conservative fiscal agenda is smoke and mirrors. Here’s why.
The Republican voting base is skewed toward elderly Americans who rely on Social Security and Medicare to survive. Medicaid, among other things, keeps our nation’s nursing homes open. No conservative will vote to cut national defense.
Here are the numbers: about 24 percent of federal spending is Social Security; about 16 percent goes to defense, 14 percent goes to Medicare and 17 percent to Medicaid.
About 16 percent is discretionary spending that funds programs like the FBI, the ATF, nuclear power plant safety, immigration enforcement, national parks and, oh yes, congressional salaries. Only about 10 percent goes to the safety-net programs that Republicans say they oppose, but which many Republicans are happy to collect.
If Republicans actually make the massive cuts they promise to make – which they rename “entitlement reform” or “privatization” – in the programs that keep their supporters alive, they will all be defeated for reelection.
The number of Republicans in Congress would then be exactly zero. They all know this. Paul Ryan knows this. Donald Trump knows this; he told them so during the campaign. The Freedom Caucus knows this. Most of the commentators on Fox News know this.
All the same, every time the debt limit or a tax increase comes up for debate, conservatives all sound off against “big government.” I wish them luck with that.