Guest Column: Hey Dave Simpson, It's Not That Simple!

Guest columnist Kim Love writes, "As with so many of the opinions expressed by so many people these days, Dave Simpson's column 'Spend Less? That's Out Of The Question,'  has an overly simplistic premise and is really a false equivalency."

Kim Love

April 26, 20233 min read

Burning money 4 28 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Dear editor:

As with so many of the opinions expressed by so many people these days, Dave Simpson's column 'Spend Less? That's Out Of The Question,'  has an overly simplistic premise and is really a false equivalency.

First, making decisions about your individual spending habits is entirely different than getting 535 different people representing a myriad of constituencies to agree on what should be cut.  I can give a couple of examples of the problem.  If the federal budget were my personal budget, I'd do away with ethanol subsidies. 

Unfortunately, there is a significant number of mid western Representatives and Senators who won't hear of that.  When was the last time you heard a candidate of either party running for the presidency in Iowa advocate cutting ethanol subsidies?  Let's look at the issue of the Littoral Combat Ships. 

A Government Accountability Office report published in February found that the LCS still ”has not demonstrated the operational capabilities it needs to perform its mission.”  The Navy's latest budget proposal includes decommissioning nine of the so called “little crappy ships,” even though they are among the newest ships in the fleet. 

Last year, Congress blocked the decommissioning of the Freedom variant Littoral Combat Ships USS Fort Worth, Detroit, and Little Rock.   So, yes there is spending that can be cut, but it is an oversimplification and a false equivalency to compare it to reducing your personal spending.

Second, to ignore the fact a large portion of the budget can't as a practical matter be touched: the spending for Social Security, Medicare, Defense and interest on the existing federal debt.  As a result, the remaining discretionary part of the budget isn't really large enough to immediately balance the budget without causing an amount of pain over the short term few Democrats or Republicans would be willing to accept. 

Third, defaulting on the federal debt is something no serious economist or business person thinks is a good idea, so threatening to do it really seems to be a fools errand.  In looking for a personal comparison, stopping to pay your mortgage would certainly increase your personal cash flow over the short term, but it certainly wouldn't be a good long term solution.

Fourth, there appear to be some reasonable solutions neither party seems to want to give serious consideration to, such as the ideas of Maine Democratic Representative Jared Golden.  Rather than to try to balance the budget immediately, he proposes to stabilize deficits so the nation's debt grows no faster than the nation's income. 

To do that, Golden sets a target of reducing borrowing by $250 billion a year in each of the next two years.  Half would come through spending caps such as those floated by Republicans: capping inflation adjusted “discretionary” spending (everything other than Social Security and Medicare) at last year's levels, along with rescinding student debt cancellation and recapturing unspent covid funding. 

The other half would come from raising additional revenue in ways long favored by Democrats: raising the tax rate on big corporations to 25%, imposing a surtax on corporate stock buybacks and rescinding the Trump tax cut for individuals making more than $400,000 a year.

No, spending less isn't out of the question.  It's just more complicated than sorting out your personal spending.   And as far as knee slappers are concerned, I can't recall anyone suggesting ending Social Security.  Tweaking it, yes.  Ending it, no.


Kim Love, Sheridan

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Kim Love