A Blueprint for the Welfare/Warfare State
By Laurence M. Vance
President Obama has submitted his latest budget to Congress. It will be the last budget he submits to Congress, the last budget battle he faces with Congress, and the last time his budget will be dead on arrival in Congress.
For the first time in history, the federal budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1 of this year, will top $4 trillion. To put this in historical perspective, the federal budget first reached $100 billion in the fiscal year 1962. It first reached $1 trillion in the fiscal year 1987 (thank you, Ronnie). It first reached $2 trillion in 2007 (thank you George W. Bush). And it first reached about $3 trillion ($2.982 trillion) in fiscal year (thanks again W).
The idea that it is just Obama and the Democrats that are big spenders is ludicrous. The Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives for six of Obama’s eight years.
As usual, though, about one-fourth of the budget is for so-called discretionary spending for domestic and military programs and about three-fourths is for what is termed mandatory spending: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs, as well as interest on the massive federal debt, which now exceeds $19 trillion.
And as usual, conservatives have their worthless proposals to “fix” things by reforming government programs while maintaining the colossal welfare/warfare state.
The latest plan from the Heritage Foundation is no different. Heritage is a conservative think tank “whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”
The new Heritage plan is called Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2017. It is actually part one of a three-part “Mandate for Leadership series of documents” that will be released by Heritage over the course of the year. Part one “provides detailed recommendations for the annual congressional budget.” Part two “will establish a long-term vision that requires presidential leadership and congressional action.” Part three “will identify presidential and Cabinet-level priorities consistent with the policy proposals presented in the first two parts.” Each part is designed to educate “the American public, specifically including Congress, the new American President, and the new President’s team.” All three parts “deliver a clear, unified policy vision for Congress and the President to preserve and create opportunities that help let all Americans provide for their families, contribute to their communities, and pursue their dreams.”
I have read part one, Blueprint for Balance, in its entirety—all 180 pages of it—so you don’t have to. I know you have better things to do—like watch your grass grow. The plan ought to be called Blueprint for the Welfare/Warfare State.
The Blueprint for Balance, it is claimed:
•Balances the budget while reducing taxes
•Reforms Entitlement Programs
•Reduces the National Debt
•Responsibly Brings Spending Under Control
•Reigns in Interest Spending
•Fully Funds National Defense
•Provides the Framework for Budget Process Reform
Under the Blueprint for Balance:
•Federal debt held by the public in 2026 would be $9.3 trillion lower, a reduction of almost $75,000 per household.
•Interest payments would decline by $320 billion in 2026 alone. Instead of paying nearly $6,700 in interest in 2026, each household would pay only about $4,100.
•Working Americans would still pay a significant chunk of their paychecks to support retirees, but their total bill would decline by 23 percent—from about $17,800 per worker to $13,700.
•The federal government will achieve a balanced budget within seven years, in 2023 (not including positive economic growth effects that would lead to balance sooner).
•Americans will save $1.3 trillion in Obamacare taxes, and federal surpluses will eventually lead to even lower taxes.
The Blueprint for Balance: “shows how America can follow a path to prosperity, rather than to the poorhouse.” It does this “by eliminating wasteful and inefficient spending and focusing taxpayer dollars on core government functions.” The Blueprint for Balance “details 115 specific proposals to reduce non-defense discretionary spending by $97 billion in FY 2017 and lays out a path for returning entitlement programs to their original purposes, all the while maintaining a strong national defense.”Again, so that you don’t have to read it, let me tell you that the three chapters in Blueprint for Balance are preceded by a list of contributors, an introduction, and a detailed table of contents. They are followed by a handy summary table of recommendations and an appendix on how the Blueprint compares to CBO projections.
The three chapters are:
1.Policies for a Congressional Budget
2.Discretionary Budget Proposals for 2017
3.Budget Process Reforms
The brief third chapter is full of technical congressionalese and can safely be ignored. The equally short first chapter outlines major policy objectives that should guide the congressional budget:
•More Economic Freedom
•Strong National Defense
•Pro-growth Tax Reform
•Rules Based Monetary System
•Protection of Life and Conscience
•Defense of Religious Liberty
•State and Locally Focused Transportation and Infrastructure Funding
•Access to Natural Resource Production and Trade and the Empower States
•Elimination of All Energy Subsidies
•Repeal of Obamacare
•Patient-Centered, Market-Based Health Care Reform
•Medicaid as a True Safety Net
•Reform of Social Security, Including Disability Insurance.
•Limited Federal Intervention and Restore State and Local Control of Education
•Higher Education Accreditation Reform and Restraint in Federal Higher Education Subsidies.
•No Hidden Taxes Through Regulation
•No Barriers to Investment; Repeal of Harmful Financial Regulations
•Support of Entrepreneurship Through Reformed Securities Laws
•Promotion of Free Trade
I will limit my remarks to just twelve things.
1.Free trade does not need so-called free trade agreements.
2.True federalism would mean that the states would make their own drug laws. There would be no federal drug laws. This is anathema to the Heritage Foundation, as I pointed out here.
3.Medicare does not need to be modernized; it needs to be eliminated. No American should be forced to pay for the health insurance or health care of any other American.
4.The tax code does not need to be reformed; it needs to be eliminated. In the meantime, taxes should be substantially decreased and deductions, exemptions, and credits should be substantially increased. That should be the focus. Not efficiency, simplicity, transparency, or fairness. And certainly not establishing “a consumption tax base.”
5.Funding for Planned Parenthood should be eliminated since such funding does not protect life and conscience, but funding should not be redirected “to centers that provide health care for women without entanglement in on-demand abortion.”
6.The defense budget does not need to be increased; it needs to be slashed. It needs to be a defense budget instead of an offense budget.
7.Obamacare should be eliminated, but not replaced with anything.
8.Medicaid does not need to be restored to a true safety net; it needs to be eliminated. Not only should no American be forced to pay for the health care of any other American, it is neither constitutional nor the proper role of the federal government to provide anyone with a safety net of any kind.
9.We need health care freedom, not health care reform. The federal government should not have anything whatsoever to do with medicine, hospitals, organ transplants, drugs, insurance, or physicians.
10.Federal subsidies and spending on education should not just be restrained or limited, they should be eliminated entirely. It is neither constitutional nor the proper role of the federal government to have anything to do with the education of any American.
11.Welfare does not need to be reformed; it needs to be repealed. Those who work should not have to support those who don’t. Those who don’t want to be charitable should not be forced to provide charity.
12.Social Security should not be reformed; it should be labeled for what it is: an intergenerational income transfer program that forces the young to support the old.
At 142 pages, the second chapter makes up the bulk of the work. It provides “proposals to reform discretionary programs” for the twelve appropriations bills that Congress passes during the year, before October 1, to fund the government for the next fiscal year. These relate to:
•Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and, Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
•Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
•Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies
•Financial Services and General Government
•Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
•Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
•State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
•Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Does the Blueprint for Balance contain any good proposals to reform discretionary programs? Certainly. Just like the Heritage Foundation occasionally publishes some good articles that I would recommend, so the Blueprint for Balance has some good policy proposals. Who could disagree with these?
•Repeal the USDA Catfish Inspection Program
•Eliminate the Legal Services Corporation
•Eliminate the Export-Import Bank
•Eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
•Eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
•Privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)
•End Funding for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
•Eliminate Funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
•Eliminate Funding for the Paris Climate Change Agreement
•Eliminate the Essential Air Service Program
•Eliminate Grants to the National Rail Passenger Service Corporation (Amtrak)
•Stop Paying Federal Employees to Work for Outside Organizations While on the Clock
•Repeal the Davis–Bacon Act
•End All Energy Subsidies
•Eliminate the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA)
•Eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission
•Eliminate the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)
•Eliminate the Small Business Administration Disaster Loans Program (DLP)
•Eliminate Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Grants
I didn’t even know that the USDA had a Catfish Inspection Program. Did any Americans even know this outside of the ones that are well paid by the federal government to administer it?
But in spite of these recommendations, there are still four major problems with the Heritage Blueprint for Balance proposals.
First of all, the money saved by the elimination, repeal, and reduction in spending of these and other recommended agencies and programs amounts to pennies, peanuts, and chump change. The federal government is so huge, so monstrous, that these eliminations, repeals, and reductions are miniscule. Should they take place? Yes, certainly, but don’t think they will balance the budget. And doing so certainly won’t rein in the evil perpetrated every day by the federal government—at home and abroad.
Second, there is too much reform and too little repeal. For example, there are recommendations on how the Department of Agriculture can save money, but no mention that the department is unconstitutional and should be abolished in its entirety. And the same with the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services. And under Homeland Security, all that is recommended is that “fire grants” be eliminated, funding for FEMA’s “disaster relief fund” should be reduced, and the vetting process for refugees should be effective. And this last recommendation is not even anything that will result in any money cut from the budget. The monstrous TSA is not even mentioned. It should be recommended that the whole Department of Homeland Security be abolished since we already have a Department of Defense. And speaking of the Department of Defense, the Blueprint for Balance recommends four things that the Defense Department can do to save money: “cut funding for non-combat research,” “cut commissary subsidies,” “close Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools (DDESS),” and reform military health care.” Closing foreign bases, ending foreign wars, and bringing all U.S. troops home would not only save hundreds of billions, it is the right thing to do. But, of course, the Heritage Foundation fully supports the warfare state. Note this statement in the introduction to chapter 2 in the Blueprint for Balance:
This chapter provides proposals to reform discretionary programs for the FY 2017 appropriations bills. Should these proposals be adopted, discretionary spending could be reduced by $97 billion in 2017 (including $19.4 billion in rescissions of previously appropriated funds). Some of the proposals produce savings in defense programs; those savings should be shifted to higher priority defense programs, to help achieve a stronger national defense.
And why are there no recommendations to reduce or eliminate foreign aid?
Third, other than the bloated defense budget, it is the mandatory spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs that is really busting the budget. In the historical tables that accompany the White House’s proposed fiscal year 2017 budget (p. 19), there is a list of “the programs currently categorized as Means-Tested Entitlements”:
•Funds for Strengthening Markets, Income, and Supply (section 32)
•SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program), including nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico
•Child Nutrition Programs, including the special milk program
•Student Financial Assistance (mostly Pell Grants)
•Grants to States for Medicaid
•Children’s Health Insurance Program
•Child Enrollment Contingency Fund
•Payments to States for Child Support Enforcement and Family Support Programs
•Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
•TANF Contingency Fund
•Payment Where Adoption Credit Exceeds Liability for Tax
•Payments to States for Foster Care and Adoption Assistance
•Child Care Entitlement to States
•Payment Where Recovery Rebate Exceeds Liability for Tax
•Payment Where Earned Income Credit Exceeds Liability for Tax
•Allotment for Puerto Rico EITC Payments
•Health insurance supplement to earned income credit
•Payment Where Child Credit Exceeds Liability for Tax
•Payment Where Credit to Aid First-Time Homebuyers Exceeds Liability for Tax
•Payment Where American Opportunity Credit Exceeds Liability for Tax
•Payment Where Making Work Pay Credit Exceeds Liability for Tax
•Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI)
•Recovery of Beneficiary Overpayments from SSI Program
•Veterans’ Pensions benefits
•Refundable Premium Tax Credit and Reduced Cost Sharing Reductions
•Payment Where COBRA Credit Exceeds Liability for Tax
Entitlements are nothing but welfare programs. And these are just the means-tested welfare programs. Social Security and Medicare are not means-tested programs. One can be a millionaire and still participate in them. The Heritage proposals focus on just a small part of federal spending.
And fourth, the Blueprint for Balance never gets to the root of the problem. It is a blueprint for the welfare/warfare state. “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root,” said Henry David Thoreau. The U.S. government is the most bloated, powerful, intrusive, and dominant government in the history of the world. Reform is not what this monstrosity called the U.S. government needs. It needs to be dismantled, root and branch.