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Balancing the Budget

It's time to get serious about cutting government spending.

John Stossel
August 4, 2011

The political class predicted "disaster" if Congress didn't raise its debt limit.

I think that was a scam to get more money. See, the poor politicians don't have enough, and they need to borrow more. We taxpayers are cheap. This year we'll give them only $2.2 trillion. They want to spend $3.8 trillion.

The president said if he didn't get more money, Social Security checks wouldn't go out. Why not?

With $2 trillion, they can pay Social Security, Medicare, the interest on the debt, and still have billions left. It's billions more than the government spent when President George W. Bush took office. What's the problem?

The problem is that Republicans and Democrats under Bush and President Obama doubled spending. Now, Obama wants more taxes.

Taxes shouldn't be the answer when spending is the problem.

Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), leads the charge to keep the focus on spending. Norquist and ATR are famous for asking officeholders and candidates to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. Some say he is the reason the debt-ceiling debate was so drawn out.

"I think the reason there isn't a tax increase on the table," he told me, "is that 235 members of the House of Representatives signed a pledge never to raise taxes, a pledge to their voters, and 41 senators did. ...

"Only if you take tax increases off the table do you even begin to ... focus on spending, and that's what Obama wants to keep our focus off of. He wants us to talk about the deficit, not spending."

I pointed out that Obama might have scored points with the public because new revenues he sought—even though they wouldn't do much to shrink the deficit—would come from closing unpopular tax "loopholes."

 Norquist said he favors that—if tax rates are lowered at the same time.

"(We) want to simplify the code," he said. "(We) want to take a lot of the goodies that politicians have laced into that code ... as long as you reduce tax rates and it's not a hidden tax increase."

Milton Friedman always said taxes don't tell the whole story. What counts is how much of our resources government spends, however it acquires them. The doubling of spending under Bush and Obama hasn't gotten enough attention.

"We need to ask what it is government should do," Norquist said. "But it's going to be knockdown, drag-out. All government overspending creates the constituency for its own perpetuation. ... Weaning people off, that is very difficult."

He's right. When politicians make little cuts in the rate of spending growth, every interest group mobilizes to protect its little piece of the pie. That's why you must cut government like you take off a Band-Aid: quickly and all at once.

It's not hard to balance the budget. On my show, we made enough cuts to create a $237 billion surplus. I cut whole departments, like Education and Commerce. I cut two-thirds of the Defense Department (which still leaves it much bigger than China's). I indexed Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security to inflation, raised the retirement age, and took away benefits for rich people. But I don't have to run for office. Congressmen do, and they can't even manage to cut ridiculous tax breaks like those for ethanol.

Obama predicted disaster if the debt ceiling wasn't raised. Some predict disaster if the ratings agencies downgrade Treasury bonds. I'm dubious. In 1995, President Clinton and Republican Congress couldn't agree on a budget, so the government shut down twice, the second time for three weeks.

Did the economy grind to a halt? No. During the first shutdown, the stock market went up. During the second, it dropped then recovered.

The alarmists screamed that the fight over the debt ceiling would discourage lenders. Wrong. Ten-year Treasury bonds sold for a measly 3 percent interest (versus 15 percent in 1981).

I wasn't worried that Congress would fail to raise the debt ceiling. But I am worried that Congress will keep spending.

John Stossel is host of Stossel on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of Give Me a Break and of Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity.

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