Cutting $1.5 trillion from the federal budget, supposedly the goal of the Super Committee, sounds daunting. When you put those numbers into the context of the total federal budget and our exploding national debt, however, you realize it shouldn't be so hard. The Committee's real challenge—and it's a doozy—is a political system that discourages common sense.
The $1.5 trillion in cuts would take place over a decade, which means the committee needs to come up with about $150 billion per year. According to the President's most recent budget, the federal government will spend about $3.8 trillion in 2012, and $4.5 trillion in 2016. Surely the Super Committee can find ways to trim less than five percent away from the annual budget. Keep in mind that just ten years ago, in 2002, the federal government was spending a comparatively meager $2.0 trillion, or less than half of 2016 expected outlays. Asking the federal government to make do with about what they were spending in 2010 hardly seems draconian.
Yet these numbers aren't the Super Committee's primary obstacle. The real problem is that we've become a nation used to government spending moving in just one direction: higher, and usually much higher. Any cut, no matter how modest, is cast by big government supporters—including legions of government workers and growing number of businesses and other entities dependent on government financing—as an assault on those in need.
The reluctance to cut may seem surprising since polls show Americans believe government spends and wastes too much. Politicians know Americans' instinctive distaste for big government, which us why they all cast themselves as pillars of fiscal prudence.
When government ballooned from under $3.0 trillion in spending in 2008 to more than $3.5 trillion in 2009, politicians wisely sold it as a temporary reaction to the economic crisis. Yet today, that extra spending is just part of the baseline. The media wouldn't cover attempts to return to 2008-levels as a simple phasing out of the emergency stimulus. In media-speak, that's a massive slashing of federal programs. And not surprisingly, the President's budget never comes close to 2008-levels again.
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