Commentary

Wasn't a $4.4 Trillion Federal Government Big Enough?

By Terence P. Jeffrey | October 30, 2019 | 6:17am EDT
Leaders of both parties have shown they're happy to borrow and spend. ( Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Leaders of both parties have shown they're happy to borrow and spend. ( Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

The leaders of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate proved again this week that they favor a bigger federal government that spends and borrows more money.

Their timing was symbolically perfect.

On Friday afternoon, the government released the Monthly Treasury Statement for September, the last month of fiscal 2019.



It revealed that during the last fiscal year, the federal government collected an all-time record of approximately $1,717,857,000,000 in individual income taxes.

At the same time, the federal government spent an all-time record of approximately $4,446,584,000,000.

Total federal revenues — which, in addition to individual income taxes, include such things as Social Security taxes, corporate income taxes, excise taxes, customs duties, estate taxes and gift taxes — did not set an all-time record in fiscal 2019. At approximately $3,462,196,000,000, they were only the third highest in U.S. history. (Fiscal 2015, when total revenues were $3,505,571,540,000 in constant September 2019 dollars; and fiscal 2016, when they were $3,474,127,040,000, remain No. 1 and No. 2.)

The gap between the federal government's record spending in fiscal 2019 and its third-highest total tax revenues resulted in a deficit of $984,388,000,000.

When the fiscal year came to a close on Sept. 30, the federal debt stood at $22,719,401,753,433.78.

By the close of business on Monday, Oct. 28, that debt stood at more than $22,950,538,299,859.71. It had already increased by more than $231 billion less than one month into fiscal 2020.

When the Senate met on Monday, it took up amendments to a massive spending bill called the Commerce, Justice, Science, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, 2020.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky offered a succinct amendment to this bill. The Congressional Record summarized it as follows: "To reduce the amounts appropriated to be 2 percent less than the amount appropriated for fiscal year 2019."

"In my office, I have a debt clock," Paul said on the Senate floor when he explained his proposal. "It is spinning out of control. The numbers are mind-boggling."

"What I have offered is a commonsense approach to this," he said. "Everybody has their sacred cow. Everybody has some money they want to spend somewhere. Why don't we cut every program by 2 pennies?"

The amendment lost 24 to 67 — with nine senators not voting.

All 24 who did vote in favor of the 2% cut were Republicans. But they were outnumbered by the 25 Republicans — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — who joined 42 Democrats — including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York — to defeat the 2% cut.

Congress is continuing what is now a bipartisan tradition.

In the first two decades of the 21st century, real federal spending has increased by 70.7%.

In fiscal 1999, when Bill Clinton was president, total federal spending, according to the Monthly Treasury Statement, was $1,702,942,000,000 in 1999 dollars — or $2,604,203,010,000 in constant September 2019 dollars (adjusted using the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator). That increased by $1,842,380,990,000 to reach the record $4,446,584,000,000 the federal government spent in fiscal 2019.

In the intervening years, the Republicans and Democrats have traded control of the White House and both houses of Congress. But neither party has shown a serious interest in controlling federal spending or federal debt.

It is true that much of the increase in federal spending is driven by "mandatory" spending on Medicare and Social Security. In fiscal 1999, for example, the federal government spent $190,447,000,000 (or $291,238,720,000 in September 2019 dollars) on Medicare. In fiscal 2019, according to the Monthly Treasury Statement, it spent $650,997,000,000 — an increase of about $359,758,280,000 or 124%.

In fiscal 1999, the federal government spent $390,041,000,000 (or $596,465,380,000 in September 2019 dollars) on Social Security. In fiscal 2019, it spent $1,044,416,000,000 — an increase of $447,950,620,000 or 75.1%.

But the federal Department of Education also increased its spending from $49,600,820,000 (in constant September 2019 dollars) in fiscal 1999 to $104,364,000,000 in fiscal 2019. That was a real increase of $54,763,180,000 or 110.4%.

Should Senate Republicans exempt the Department of Education from a 2% cut?

The Department of Agriculture spent $96,095,760,000 in constant September 2019 dollars in fiscal 1999. By fiscal 2019, that had climbed 56.2% to $150,121,000,000.

Should the Republican Senate exempt the Department of Agriculture from a 2-percent cut?

The Department of Commerce spent $7,701,240,000 in constant September 2019 dollars in fiscal 1999. By fiscal 2019, that had climbed by 47% to $11,324,000,000.

Should the Republican Senate exempt the Department of Commerce from a 2% cut?

When Republicans and Democrats work together in Washington, D.C., today, it is not to cut a bloated federal government but to cut the chances this nation will be solvent and prosperous for our children and grandchildren.

(Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of CNSNews.com.)



 

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