Between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, trillions of dollars have been poured into extra government spending ostensibly in response to the pandemic. Even aside from concern about inflation, one wonders whether this will have pushed America's dire fiscal condition over the edge toward catastrophe.
A new report from the Mercatus Institute offers only the cold comfort that recent profligacy has not brought on disaster only because we were heading for disaster decades before that.
Great Society entitlement programs were enacted more than 50 years ago without much understanding or interest in how they'd affect the healthcare market or how life expectancy would increase. These miscalculations have produced liabilities far exceeding all others.
Today, 59% of the federal government's long-term fiscal imbalance is a direct result of policies enacted between 1965 and 1972. Another 3.5% comes from Medicaid expansions during the 1980s and 1990s, and a further 13% is a result of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion and its insurance subsidies.
Everything from Jimmy Carter to the present is small potatoes compared to the liabilities created during the Johnson and Nixon eras. If you are reading this, the deck was stacked against fiscal responsibility when you were a child or before you were born. As the study puts it, "The current-law federal fiscal imbalance cannot be corrected until there is action to moderate the automatic spending growth effectuated during 1965-1972."
Unless lawmakers correct mistakes of the distant past — don't hold your breath waiting for them even to consider doing so — there would be no path to a sound fiscal future even if Congress suddenly started spending appropriately where it has the discretion to do so.
It is entitlements, rather than waste and pork, that pose the danger. Democrats retained at least a weak grasp of this when George W. Bush was talking about Social Security reform 15 years ago. They argued that it was Medicare that needed reform, not Social Security.
But this is one of the many things Democrats have unlearned since then. Today, they demand Medicare for all, which would take a fiscally unsustainable program and make tens of millions more people utterly dependent on it.
Medicare's trust fund will run out of money five years from now, at which point it will no longer be authorized to spend anything beyond what it collects in premiums and payroll taxes. Congress will probably just buckle and pay for Medicare out of general funds.
One would hope Congress would learn from its mistakes, but Democrats are instead determined to repeat them. Biden's proposed social spending would add $791 billion to federal deficits in just five years. If all the new spending programs were made permanent, it would add trillions more. The best thing we can do to get the United States out of its debt hole is to stop digging.