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Bruce Bialosky

Budget; What Budget?

Our leaders have failed at a national balanced budget. They do not even begin to address whether we are anywhere near the possibility of a balanced budget. Charges are flying back and forth about whether anyone wants to cut Social Security and/or Medicare as some demagogue the issue. It is time to take a simple “helicopter” view at what is actually happening.

In 2022, our federal government spent $6.48 trillion. The breakdown:

1. Social Security — $1.22 trillion, comprised of three parts: Payments to seniors $1.03 trillion, $144.7 billion for disability; $48.4 billion – other.
2. Defense – $1.03 trillion, composed of $759.8 billion for defense and $271 billion for veterans.
3. Medicare $756.1 billion.
4. Transfers to states – $1.21 trillion.
5. Transfers payments – $619.3 billion. Only $36.3 billion of that is paid for by the recipients as those are payments related to unemployment insurance.
6. Interest payments – $483.5 billion.

The government received $5.03 trillion in revenue:
1. Payroll Taxes – $1.50 trillion comprised principally of $1.09 trillion Social Security and $344 billion for Medicare.
2. Income taxes and other taxes — $3.50 trillion.

Clearly there are many items to discuss. First, you can see that Social Security already has expenditures exceeding collections. There is no fund saved somewhere to make up the difference. If there were no massive payments for disability and “other,” the fund would be solvent. No question that there are many deserving recipients of disability benefits but there are many who are not. The disability recipient pool expands dramatically any time there is an economic downturn, and no one polices that.

Notice the expenditures for Medicare are more than twice the revenues. This is after significant increases in the tax base occurring in the ACA passed during the Obama Administration. Not clear how this can possibly get close to being balanced.

Why so much money is paid out to the states instead of the states making their own tax collections remains a mystery. Over $600 billion of this is for medical care programs. That means the federal government is funding over $1 trillion for unfunded medical care.

The taxpayers of the states are unwilling to vote themselves to be taxed, but the feds are willing to simply print more money. The feds enjoy supplying the funds because it gives them control over the state and municipal governments. Without all these transfers the budget would have been close to balanced.

The interest payments are already skyrocketing with the return to more normal interest rates. Our irresponsible elected officials were willing to incur greater debt when the interest rates were much lower. They had to know that would change and we would have a serious problem. The massive amount of interest has already increased over $300 billion to $783 billion annualized and it is a good bet that will go higher.

Some people keep harping on the fact that we should increase tax collections on wealthy individuals and corporations. We have already increased tax collections as the reduced rates spurred higher collections. The top 1% of earners pay 40% of income taxes while earning a far smaller share of that income. Does anyone really believe we can close this $1.45 trillion budget imbalance simply by collecting more from large corporations and the very financially successful? If we collected 100% of high-earners income we would still be nearly a trillion dollars short of a balanced budget. Seems implausible to me.

If we combine the four factors of defense, social security, medical care and interest payments, the current amount being paid out is $4.4 trillion. That is almost the entire revenue of the federal government. Since two of those expenses are programs people have paid into to receive benefits and defending the country is the primary aspect of what the federal government should be doing, there is little flexibility. The problem is everything else the federal government does and for the most part badly.

Our President is spending much time criticizing Republicans about phantom proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare. On the other side Republicans are swearing fealty to an unsustainable system. Biden appears unwilling to negotiate on reducing any element of the budget to create a positive atmosphere to raise the debt ceiling. He is proposing even greater levels of expenditures. All of these talking points may change, but currently makes little sense.

The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) has stated unless there is a change, the increase in the national debt will be $19 trillion over the next decade. The CBO likewise stated federal spending on Social Security and Medicare will explode over the next decade.
You can evaluate for yourself whether our current national finances are sustainable year after year with trillion-dollar deficits. It seems to me something has to change and change quickly.