The Impending Government Shutdown Is Nothing but Theater
The loudest Republicans have failed to produce any coherent strategy to rein in deficits.
As a federal budget economist, I typically analyze budget fights in the context of competing economic and fiscal approaches, and then define what I consider to be the optimal policy. However, the current government shutdown debate lacks any coherent policy explanation. Nor is it truly about fiscal or economic policy at all. It is purely political theater driven by a small handful of Republican House lawmakers who are being called out by their own colleagues for self-promotion and populist positioning.
Congressional Republicans claim that this fight is about reining in budget deficits that approach $2 trillion this year and are barreling toward $3 trillion a decade from now. Yet they propose no changes to the Social Security and Medicare shortfalls that are overwhelmingly driving projected deficits. Nor are they proposing significant reforms to other mandatory programs, defense, or veterans’ benefits. Instead, they are focusing entirely on a 10 percent sliver of spending known as non-defense, non-veterans discretionary spending. Yes, every spending cut counts, but even achieving the House objective of cutting this spending by 25 percent would merely reduce the deficit a decade from now from $3 trillion to $2.8 trillion. Lawmakers who are serious about deficits would also address the 90 percent of spending that is actually driving the red ink.
Photo by Douglas Rissing/iStock