Much is made of the limits imposed on the Federal government’s discretionary spending by such “mandatory” spending items as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and interest on the national debt. Indeed, after mandatory items—these three major items and a few others—discretionary spending amounts to only 33% of total Federal spending as of 2015.
This dichotomy, though, isn’t only misleading, it’s entirely wrong. The fact is, nearly all of Federal spending is discretionary: Congress sets the spending levels everywhere, and it decides the things on which to spend nearly everywhere. There are only three categories of spending that our Constitution requires of Congress: to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States. Even in these three mandatory areas, though, the amounts to be spent are left to the discretion of Congress, even if the requirement to pay the Debts implies a requirement to spend at least enough to keep the debts current if not actually to move the size toward zero, and even if the requirement to provide for the common Defence implies a requirement to spend at least enough to keep our defense establishment superior to all threats. Even the requirement to spend for the general Welfare is limited to the 16 items enumerated in Article I, Section 8; here, too, the amounts actually to be spent are left to Congress’ discretion.
There is, then, no requirement for Congress to spend Federal monies—citizens’ tax money—on Social Security or Medicare and Medicaid. And no Federal money should be spent on these items, which as of 2015, comprised 49%, or $1.8 trillion of the total $3.7 trillion in Federal spending.
Think about the uses to which that money could be put were Social Security and Medicare privatized and Americans allowed to be responsible for their own health and futures, rather than being required to spend their money on others’ current retirement and health costs. Think about the effects of block granting Medicaid payments to the individual States and then annually reducing the size of those grants to zero, so that the States would be allowed to be responsible for their own budgets and their citizens could spend that money on themselves.
Think about how $1.8 trillion could be redirected: lower tax rates and less government spending, so that Americans could keep more of their own money to spend on their own imperatives, needs, and wants, and the effect of their being able to spend in a market in which the Federal government isn’t crowding out private enterprises, private buyers and sellers with government competition for the same goods and services.
Think about other redirections of those $1.8 trillion: keeping lowered spending less than lowered tax revenues and so eliminating Federal deficits: budget surpluses and a significant fraction of those $1.8 trillion could be redirected toward paying down our nation’s exploding debt. Another significant fraction of those $1.8 trillion could be redirected toward rebuilding and then vastly improving our national defense establishment, so that we can, not merely match, but exceed and defeat the threats against us, defeat our enemies and friends’ and allies’ enemies acting on those threats.
Congress has the discretion to do all of these things; its spending decisions—its revenue decisions generally—are not limited to those $1.2 trillion misnamed “discretionary.”
Unfortunately, the present Government doesn’t trust its employers, We the People, collectively and individually, to see to our own needs and wants; Government insists on determining these for us. This Government, too, doesn’t believe we need a very large defense establishment at all. It prefers, instead, to retreat from the world stage, to talk to Russia about its aggressions in eastern Europe and the Middle East, to talk to the People’s Republic of China about its aggressions in the East and South China Seas. This Government doesn’t even recognize the Islamic terrorist threat and their war actively being prosecuted against us.
This needs to change. Every single bit of it.