Cruz and Lee are Easy Demonized: The Short-Term Consequences of the So-Called “Shutdown” are More Keenly Felt Than the Long-Term Consequences of Continued Government Profligacy
By Ken K. Gourdin
I just had an Op-Ed published in The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin offering an alternate viewpoint on those who vilify Republicans in general, and Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, respectively, in particular, for their role in so-called government “shutdown.” One point I made is that to call the action a “shutdown” is a misnomer, because 83% of the government still functioned as usual during that period. The PDF version of the paper is available at this address (last accessed today, although a paid subscription may be required), and my Op-Ed is on page A4: http://www.tooeleonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/10-29-13-Transcript-Bulletin.pdf.
Heated political rhetoric often accompanies things such as the partial shutdown: proponents of budgetary restraint accuse those who oppose the shutdown of favoring unrestrained fiscal profligacy, while those who oppose the shutdown accuse those who support it of wanting to take food out of the mouths of babies, to kill the elderly, and to throw people of limited means out into the street. Such wild accusations serve the cause of neither side well.
Should the federal government continue to do all it currently does, and more? Is such a course sustainable over the long term from a budgetary and fiscal standpoint? Are particular programs constitutional, consistent with the document’s aims as laid out in the preamble? Admittedly, while favoring fiscal restraint as a general principle is easy, daring to suggest that a particular program exceeds the scope of what government constitutionally and legally is permitted to do is much more difficult. Further, even daring to suggest that a particular program ought to be modified (suggesting, for example, that Social Security ought to be a means-tested program, so that those who need the benefits most get more, while those who have income from other sources get less), let alone that a program ought to be ended altogether often is dismissed as heresy of the gravest sort. (This is especially so if a particular program is favored by an especially numerous or vociferous constituency.)
The bottom line is, nothing is harder to kill than a well-entrenched, long-established government program. That’s why Obamacare opponents have continued to fight it even after it passed through both houses of Congress on essentially a party-line vote, after various appellate courts weighed in on its constitutionality (and reached conflicting conclusions), and after the United States Supreme Court narrowly decided that the program is constitutional.
The problem faced by those who favor fiscal restraint is that while the consequences of the partial shutdown were immediate, the eventual consequences of a continued lack of fiscal restraint are far more remote, and are unlikely to be felt for some time to come. Many of those who favor fiscal restraint support a voluntary reining in of government spending while we still have a choice in the matter, before government debt, rising interest rates, and other factors force our hand and require us to take action not simply because such action is prudent, but rather because we simply have no other choice.
Continuing annual deficits and the ballooning $20 trillion total national debt are only the tip of the iceberg. When government borrows from Social Security’s portion of the national treasury, it essentially repays those loans with “IOUs.” Social Security itself essentially is nothing more than a giant “Ponzi Scheme,” as assessments received aren’t set aside for future retirees, but rather are used to pay current beneficiaries. That situation is likely only to worsen as more and more of the “Baby Boomer” generation reaches retirement age. Similar forces strain the government from numerous other quarters, as more and more people are deemed eligible to receive government benefits, while even those who are least bothered by high tax burdens eventually will be forced to admit the truth of the old saying that one “cannot get blood from a turnip.”
The bottom line is that many estimate that the federal government’s unfunded liabilities total more than a hundred trillion dollars. And printing increasing amounts of money to solve the problem means that every dollar used to pay for such liabilities is worth far less when the liabilities are paid than it was when they first were incurred. Such inflation is easy to ignore because it is invisible. And, although debts around the world currently are paid in U.S. dollars because the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, if enough nations form coalitions agreeing to denominate their mutual debts in a currency other than dollars, currently-low interest rates will skyrocket, thereby worsening the situation by making it far more difficult for the federal government to borrow money than it is now.
But of course, it’s easy to demonize “deficit hawks” such as Cruz and Lee as mere obstructionists and alarmists, and as hard-hearted, calloused fiends since, however grave those consequences are likely to end up being, they are not immediate (as were the consequences of the partial government shutdown). To be clear, however, while I lauded Cruz and Lee for their willingness to stand on principle in my Op-Ed, the partial shutdown had consequences of its own (other than temporarily frustrating the “going-along-to-get-along” spending mentality I talk about here) that are more immediate and dire. Those consequences extend well beyond the relative triviality of (for example) having vacation plans altered by the closure of national parks during the period, and I will explore those consequences in a subsequent post.