Entitlement programs, not defense, the source of deficit crisis

US Navy/Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Denny Cantrell

San Antonio class amphibious transport dock ship Pre-Commissioning Unit San Diego (LPD 22) arrives in San Diego for its commissioning ceremony on May 19. San Diego is the fourth ship named for the city and the first to be home-ported in San Diego.

Article Highlights

  • The primary drivers of our growing debt burden are the “Big 3” entitlements: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid

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  • As part of the debt ceiling deal, politicians effectively fenced off the main source of our over-spending

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  • If your family’s checkbook was out of order, you would not rush to cut your flood insurance while you kept buying new cars

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America’s debt is now equal to the size of our economy at 100% of Gross Domestic Product. This burden must be reduced and quickly. However, it is a false choice to debate spending cuts from within just one slice of the federal budget.

The primary drivers of our growing debt burden are the “Big 3” entitlements of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Yet as part of the debt ceiling deal that created sequestration when the Super Committee failed, politicians effectively fenced off nearly two-thirds of the federal budget and the main source of our over-spending. 

Under sequestration, the major entitlements would be cut by only 15% whereas non-defense discretionary programs (like welfare) take a hit of 28%. The military’s budget drops the steepest amount of 43% under sequestration. These planned cuts speak clearly to the federal government’s priorities. The military, despite all rhetoric to the contrary, is often low on the list of political concerns.

The looming sequestration cuts reinforce a trend prominent in the Obama administration’s 2013 budget. Under the current request, taxpayers and the military will disproportionately contribute to deficit reduction. In fact, “under the president’s budget, while all other government agencies enjoy a generous net increase in their allowance, only the federal government’s highest priority—defense—is forced to make do with less.”

If your family’s checkbook was out of order, you would not rush to cut your flood insurance or home security system while you kept on buying new cars every year. But similarly, Congress and the White House continue to target a relatively small portion of the federal budget while ignoring the elephant in the room. As Congress prepares to vote on another debt ceiling increase later this year and the economy is threatened with the possibility of another credit downgrade, policymakers will continue to simply react to the next crisis.

But genuine leadership is not just about reacting; it is about proactively seeking solutions that leave the nation better off for the next generation. Ironically, this abdication of leadership will force irrational and inefficient decisions that ultimately hurt both national security and our economic livelihood.

Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow at AEI.

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