Editor's note: This piece was authored by Susan A. Carleson
The House Republican Study Committee (RSC) has proposed a federal budget that not only can America live with – it cannot live without it.
It is a serious plan with responsible measures for achieving fiscal sanity in an appropriate and reasonable time frame. The RSC budget will reach balance in just five years, as opposed to balancing the federal budget in 10 years at the earliest under Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal.
This is not pie-in-the-sky thinking – our fine neighbor to the north, Canada, whose 1994 fiscal mess was on par with our current disaster, managed to get its budget in shape in just four years! President Obama’s budget – oh well, never mind.
Congress, which theoretically controls federal spending, operates on a two-year election cycle, and anyone who thinks that politicians (no matter how noble of mind and intention) will be able to resist the siren calls to bust any spending plan for five straight election cycles once campaign season begins has clearly not paid any attention whatsoever to how we've gotten ourselves in this mess over the last four decades.
Among other things, my dear father was a very good budgeter. His daughter didn't inherit his skills, but I'll never forget the most brilliant advice he gave me – a budget is not worth the paper it's written on if you don't follow it. And he was right – I proved it, often.
Washington has played a game with budgeting for decades, using incomprehensible definitions of "current spending" and other Three Card Monte tricks. From time to time, good men and women have attempted to bring honesty to the process. But, seriously, how realistic is it to design a budget that will depend on five successive Congresses to stick to the program?
In its recently released 2013 budget, the RSC puts the House Democrats in a bit of a box (Botox?) by cutting discretionary spending below the 2008 levels approved by the Nancy-Pelosi-led Congress. It also protects vital defense projects from sequestration and creates a simpler, flatter and fairer tax code through the Jobs Through Growth Act that the RSC budget incorporates. It’s very good timing on that one, as all of us who pay taxes are wrestling with getting our shoe boxes to our accountants before April 15th.
Perhaps the biggest single element for saving money— while simultaneously rescuing a critical part of our safety net— is block granting Medicaid through the State Health and Flexibility Act (HR 4160), which more than doubles the Medicaid savings achieved in the Ryan budget. This bill grants states maximum flexibility to design health care programs that will meet the needs of their most vulnerable residents.
What makes HR 4160 different from other block grant bills? Simple: It removes the power of the Washington bureaucracy to mess it up! It achieves this by requiring that money directed to the states each month be sent to them directly from the Treasury Department. No more passing federal funding through the labyrinth of the Department of HHS and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid – no more opportunities for bureaucrats to concoct regulations to turn legislative intent into prohibitive requirements and yes’s into no’s.
This is the pure federalism envisioned by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago – and it’s way overdue. If our countrymen are serious about surviving and passing the American Dream on to our children and grandchildren, they will raise their voices in support of the adults at the RSC to take charge of Washington spending.
Susan Carleson, the widow of Robert B. Carleson, Ronald Reagan's Chief Welfare Advisor, is Chairman and President of the American Civil Rights Union and the Carleson Center for Public Policy.