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Shrinking the Waistline and the Federal Budget

Posted on Tuesday, October 3, 2023
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by AMAC, Jeff Szymanski
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47 Comments
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Consider weight loss programs and government programs.  Both are perpetually in the news. Americans regularly confess they could be a little leaner and so too could the federal budget. But never are the two considered together. Why is it that neither waistlines nor the federal budget ever shrinks? Are the two concepts really that similar?  It turns out yes— more than you think.

Let’s start with weight loss. We all know the formula for reducing weight. You can expend more calories each day (exercise) or you can bring in (eat) fewer calories to match current exercise levels. Budget balancing isn’t much different. You either cut the spending to match the tax revenue now collected or raise the tax revenues to the current level of spending the public enjoys. Of course a third way would be a combination of the two—some spending cuts and some tax increases, or in the case of weight loss, eat less and exercise more. It all seems pretty elementary actually.

But forget those 10 pounds. What about the morbidly obese? A more comprehensive plan would be required that would involve real sacrifice and permanent lifestyle changes. Imagine such a person saying, “I’m all in for your weight loss suggestions doc, but you’ve got to take out all the exercise suggestions and the cuts to sweets.”

And so it is with the federal budget and how the public views it. Getting rid of waste, fraud, and abuse is a common refrain. Others say cut out foreign aid. Politicians exclaim that government is too big and spends too much, at least overall. The public generally agrees. Everyone appears to favor cutting programs, but that only applies in the abstract. Cut which programs specifically? Balancing the federal budget also polls favorably. But Americans don’t have the information needed to be truly informed about what that would actually entail.

The fiscal year for 2023 just ended on September 30th. Final numbers are due out soon, but it is projected the federal budget deficit for just this past year will be close to $2 trillion. That means almost $2 trillion more was spent than the incoming tax revenue was. The difference was borrowed, and it must be paid back plus interest.

But it’s more complicated because just four federal programs plus interest on the debt (which is all past deficits combined) make up over 80 percent of the federal budget. They are Defense/Military, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. You could completely eliminate the other 20 percent of programs and not balance the federal budget. And note that means eliminate, not cut. That is scary. No national parks. Zero air traffic controllers. No federal court system or prisons. No scientific research. No Pell grants. No maintaining federal roads or highways. The list goes on. Just four items—spending for troops plus social insurance benefits for the aged and the poor. In fact, just a few years back a former undersecretary of the Treasury named Peter Fisher famously declared that our government is “little more than an insurance company with an army.” He was not wrong.

This knowledge is important because politicians have their talking points about getting rid of welfare abuse or eliminating the Department of Education. The merits of each notwithstanding, neither yields any savings. It’s a grain of sand on the beach. It’s turning off nightlights to cut a bloated household budget. It’s walking up and down your driveway one extra time each day to try to lose weight. The problem with all of these solutions is they’re all for naught.

Are Americans ready to have conversations about draconian cuts to Medicare and Social Security? This isn’t about a few bucks more each month in premiums. Are we ready to make deep cuts to the military industrial complex? Canceling a few new ships or plane orders isn’t enough. How about deep cuts to Medicaid, which is health care for the poorest? 

The answer is we do not appear ready. Politicians are not rewarded by voters for speaking the hard truths, and so we voters do not get told the hard truth. But this is the hard truth. Facts are facts. Four programs plus interest payments comprise 80 percent of spending. And with interest payments growing and the population aging, it can only get worse, even though that might seem impossible.

Honest conversations need to happen soon. The federal budget is morbidly overweight. The national debt is $33 trillion. A permanently diminished standard of living is the result of our doing nothing, and we’re already seeing the first signs of that.

Jeff Szymanski works in political communications at AMAC, a senior benefits organization with 2.2 million members.  He previously taught high school government and economics for 15 years.

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Max
Max
4 months ago

Let’s see: When the Democrats are in charge, spending goes through the roof. When the Republicans are in charge, the spending is curtailed however they fail to eliminate it completely so some of the spending waste remains. The voters need to put in common sense representatives who can balance the budget and get rid of the waste. The current cycle will remain until the voters wake up but it is too late.

Annie
Annie
4 months ago

There have been many very reasonable suggested ways to reduce spending on Social Security and Medicare but NO ONE IN CONGRESS has the guts to even consider them. Sad.

Susie
Susie
4 months ago

For each illegal coming into our country, there is an amount of $ for phone, housing, airfare, healthcare, etc. take should be deducted from that country’s foreign aid. We cannot afford this onslaught!

Pat R
Pat R
4 months ago

I live on just a tad under $30K/yr even with the SocSec increase in Jan. But I’d be willing to give up $25-40/mo to help balance the budget. But I seriously doubt others would be willing to do the same; not to mention politicians would just find something else to spend the extra money on.
As for politicians, it is easy to spend other peoples’ money since it’s impersonal and always flowing in to gov’t coffers.

Honest Abe
Honest Abe
4 months ago

MAGA 2024—-and lets rebuild our great country the right way, Republican Principles not Liberalism Democrat Style- SOCIALISM

Nanc
Nanc
4 months ago

Ok, stop all boondoggle spending. If it doesn’t benefit the whole country don’t fund it. Example Panther Island in Texas, Texas should fix it, it doesn’t do anything for the USA.
Interstates roads,trains, airplanes, crossover all the states, yes fund them. Military, federal parks, anything that only can be done by the federal government.
Move insurance to a private company, Medicaid is over stepping. Social Security should go private to keep other government agencies from taking the funds out.
There should be a test to requests for funds to see if it benefits the whole nation,if not let the states or private companies handle it.
Less federal spending should be the top priority of our congress .

Melinda
Melinda
4 months ago

Is it really about how much we spend, or what we spend it on? Or both? I’ve always read about how much the departments spend on the items they buy. A lot of waste could be cut, but when they are spending someone else’s money they just aren’t careful with it. It’s similar to “vote out Congress, but not my representative!”

Philip Seth Hammersley
Philip Seth Hammersley
4 months ago

One major problem is that “cuts” are NOT cuts! Agency A spends 4 million this year and WANTS 5 million next year. Congress gives Agency A 4.5 million and CLAIMS they “cut” their budget! That’s not how the REAL WORLD works, is it?
We need a total FREEZE in REAL dollars, then start with actual cuts!

Annie
Annie
4 months ago

Note that this analogy was well put and excellent Jeff!

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
4 months ago

CUT Waste, see CAGW.org

Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis
4 months ago

How about closing military bases outside of the US? Isn’t it time Europe and the rest of the world defend themselves? When did we take them to raise?
How about closing government agencies that liberals have weaponized against conservatives?
How about closing the border to those who come illegally and no longer paying for their transportation, housing, clothing, education and health care?
How about requiring young adults who go to college to pay for their own tuition?
How about doing away with requirement healthy young citizens buy health insurance? I used to go to the Dr only when I was sick.
How about doing away with the FED and printing dollars without paying interest to rich boy bankers for instructing the Treasury to print it using presses and employees in buildings paid for by taxpayers, not the FED?

Steven
Steven
4 months ago

Putting the government on a diet is a good & healthy thing for our economy and the country. Whenever reducing the budget deficit the Democrats immediately used their old standby of cutting Medicare and Social Security. The problem with that is that these programs directly are being paid for by by every working American citizen. Had the greedy government kept their hands off of this money and not raided the Social Security fund we would not only see Social Security beneficiaries receive more money but the fund would have been solvent for many more decades. You never hear them ever discussing cutting Welfare or other programs that benefit non-American citizens over American citizens. There are too many government programs that overlap causing duplication and added costs. Politicians are always creating a new problem that can only be solved by a nee government agency, hence continuing the growth of government. As unpleasant as it sounds to politicians the government must go on a spending diet and stop wasting our tax payer dollars to pick winners and losers to fulfill a political agenda.

Alan
Alan
4 months ago

Reagan & Trump had the best solution: Let the economy get heated up! That brings in a mountain more in taxes and GNP. Setting up a border on the south would help a lot also.

Thinking
Thinking
4 months ago

Jeff you know that overweight and obese people are pushed on us as role models, can it be any different with the over spending.
In the past overweight and obese people were put on diets and exercise. The same with the budget. Only now it is discrimination to treat overweight or obese people, because that is racism. No it is killing these people with kindness. The same with the budget. Only ole Joe decides where to spend our taxes and how much. Deficit spending is the norm. The weak reps are never going to stop them. They have to grow a spine yet until then we are sinking further and further in becoming a third world country. Till we get digital money and your money has been appropriated by the government. Then people will scream but by then it is too late.
Digital money and banks dictating what you can buy or must buy is already working in Australië. It soon will be in a neighborhood near you.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase
4 months ago

When the topic of cuts to social programs come up the politicians paint a picture of denying seniors or young children the care they need. Never heard one talk about the addons to social programs; like healthy adults who could work, illegal aliens, etc. Seniors paid into SS as a stopgap pension. Many companies knocked down their pension plans. Maybe the answer is to divorce pension from emergency help (welfare, etc). Properly invested savings to a real pension plan would yield far more than SS yields. Why does government take from that fund anyway? Welfare was supposed to be a safety net for those in dire need rather than a vote purchase plan. With government meddling in health care the Medicare plan is a joke. Look at what the government allows versus health care providers bills.
The real problem is a bloated FED out of control and the worst administrator imaginable for social programs.

Helen
Helen
4 months ago

Reducing Medicaid fraud would do a lot. And what of the $$$ going to Ukraine or wherever it’s going?

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
4 months ago

I’m no fan of McCarthy but it seems to me they should be counting ways to pass a workable budget instead of votes to oust McCarthy. Demscare voting with Republicans, why? Because this way, no budget can be passed in the House without a Speaker and its “Republicans fault!” With no budget, no birder wall… oh but its not Dems fault, right? It’s “Republicans fault!”.

johnh
johnh
4 months ago

Why does Biden claim that he has reduced deficit the last two years? Can anyone answer that & what is Biden bending/hiding in order to say this on public media?

johnh
johnh
4 months ago

We need to stop increasing our Federal Debt. And today, I read that Biden is forgiving $9 Billion more in student loans. How is he doing this as I thought that the judges ruled against him doing this. Example of Biden does not have a clue what debt will do to Americans in the future & is only doing this to buy votes & Socialism tactics of freebie giving to bribe people to depend on govt.

Rita
Rita
4 months ago

Sadly we have too much TALKING

Ed
Ed
4 months ago

A convention of states to impose term limits, fiscal accountability, and reduce size and reach of the Federal Gov would be a great way to take back state sovereignty and start disciplining the federal behemoth! conventionofstates.com

Sunni
Sunni
4 months ago

Bad health is directly related to being overweight. Yet weight loss prescriptions are NOT covered by Medicare. So this tells me that our government

Michael Stevens
Michael Stevens
4 months ago

I generally agree with the article, but not with the night lite and driveway walk analogies. This is exactly part of the problem that got us to this point. All three of the health/human service expenses have drifted drastically from original intent(s). Nobody should get SSI payments unless they worked the 40 quarters to EARN that right, Nobody should get Medicare unless they paid into the system for those same 40 quarters. SNAP benefits should be off limits for those on drugs (illegal) should be ONLY for staples (rice, beans, millk, cheese, bread, fresh vegetables, and hamburger or whole chicken, etc). EVERY dollar saved pretty soon adds up to millions and then hundreds of millions!
We’ve all heard the stories about welfare being used to buy cases of water, only to be poured out and the bottles returned for cash to buy cigarettes. These frauds HAVE to be stopped.
Then we need a frank discussion about the USPS and Amtrak (et.al.) which are each LOSING north of $10 billion dollars a year. It can go on almost forever, which is why we’re in todays situation.

BigD
BigD
4 months ago

I believe there is a massive amount of waste and fraud in government spending. Medicare fraud, for example, people soliciting us to buy covid tests, so they can get reimbursed by medicare when we didn’t need or want the tests. I turned in 3 different manufacturers who sent me COVID tests I never asked for but were planning to charge the government to pay for them – at an exorbitant rate. Just heard items from the budget read on TV, 4 million for playground, 1 million for elevator and many more. All earmarks need to go. I agree with someone who said if it is not a national item, the Feds should not pay for it. Saying eliminating the dept of Ed won’t do much- well it will be a start. We need to focus on pork, graft and fraud. Anything we don’t spend is better than nothing.

Rich
Rich
4 months ago

The simple fact is cutting the budget to truly make a difference will be painful and require strong politicians that can’t be bought off. Right now, that can’t happen. We could start by reducing all the money we send to other countries by 10%, and look to reduce more. If they can’t be satisfied with what they get, they won’t get even that. We can’t continue to buy our allies. When we become strong again and get our respect back, the allies will come. Many things have to change to bring our country back to center. Time to get to work.

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