This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Jason Chaffetz had his 15 minutes of political glory Tuesday, riding his bill to cut, cap and balance the federal budget through the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill sounds good it cuts and caps federal spending but it doesn't do the hard work of actually deciding which programs and which Americans would get the ax. When all you are doing is playing with numbers, the human costs of federal budget cuts, such as massive federal layoffs and benefit cuts during high unemployment, are masked.
Americans want the Congress to impose federal budget discipline, but this bill would be a straitjacket. It would trade profligate deficit spending for rigid caps that would deny government the ability to adapt to a dynamic economy and other unforeseeable events like war. It would replace one form of budget irresponsibility with something worse.
Chaffetz has said that HB2560 would cut spending by $111 billion next year, but that's just the beginning. It would cap federal outlays at a fixed percentage of the Gross Domestic Product, beginning at 21.7 percent in 2013 and declining to 19.9 percent in 2021. By comparison, the current budget is about 23.8 percent of GDP. The 2012 budget is about $3.7 trillion.
Certain programs would be exempt, including Social Security, Medicare, veterans' benefits and net interest on the debt. Spending for the war on terror also would get a pass. But Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, would not. Nor would unemployment benefits or federal disaster relief. This also means that the discretionary programs of the federal government would be severely cut.
Notice, too, that by limiting federal outlays to a fixed percentage of GDP, new programs would be stillborn. Taxes would be indirectly contained as a percentage of the economy. Admittedly, that effect on taxation would not be immediate, because the federal government currently raises only about 60 percent of its current outlays in taxes. It borrows the rest.
The bill's final element would not allow the debt ceiling to be raised until a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution were submitted to the states for ratification. Such amendment would have to require a vote of two-thirds of both houses of Congress to increase taxes. Talk about straitjackets. This one would be an iron maiden.
This bill would gut the federal budget, with potentially devastating consequences to the economy. It would replace one form of budget irresponsibility with another, worse form.
As political pandering, it's a real winner. As serious policy, it's a joke.