While most of the national news is consumed by impeachment hearings and Democratic proposals to offer Medicare for all, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo wants to bring attention to the elephant in the room — the $22 trillion debt that nobody from President Donald Trump on down seem to want to talk about.
Crapo recently sent out a news release saying what is painfully obvious — that the congressional budget process is broken. He has signed on to a bipartisan measure aimed at fixing the problem.
Here’s a news flash that networks won’t be rushing to break: Republicans and Democrats backing this measure got away from their impeachment op-eds (for or against) long enough to pass this proposal out of the Senate Budget Committee. This landmark vote marks the first time since 1990 that the committee has come to an agreement on a budget reform plan. That was three years before Crapo came to Congress, when the national debt was a mere $4.4 trillion. Ahh, those were the good old days.
So, here’s what we might expect with this bipartisan agreement. Congress will have a plan to eliminate the $22 trillion debt within the next decade, providing relief to the massive debt that baby boomer politicians — who will never be labeled as the “greatest generation” — laid upon us. Do I hear a “Glory Hallelujah” out there?
OK, let’s not get our hopes up. Crapo and his group are talking about “process” and not substantive actions, such as reducing spending and digging into mandatory budgetary items, such as Social Security and Medicare, that are eating up about two-thirds of the federal budget. We’ll still be seeing these annoying year-end Christmas tree bills that raise the debt even higher, while igniting threats of government shutdowns.
But to senators in Washington and the policy wonks who deal with these issues, process is important. So, it’s encouraging that Senate Republicans and Democrats can agree on something.
“This bipartisan legislation will reform our broken budget process by outlining a more deliberative, transparent process for managing our nation’s finances,” Crapo explains. “Added accountability in the congressional budget process would be a much-needed step in the right direction to help Congress adequately balance our budget.”
Of course, as Crapo acknowledges, “it takes two parties to tango.” At the moment neither Trump nor the major Democratic candidates running for president are saying much of anything about reducing the deficit — unless you think that “Medicare for all” somehow is a budget-saver.
Deficit reduction apparently is a more serious topic of discussion behind the scenes in the Senate Budget Committee. Cosponsors of the reform bill include high-profile figures such as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who was Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential candidate three years ago. So, Republicans do not have a corner on the market of fiscal responsibility — at least, not in that committee.
“There has been bipartisan interest and substantive bipartisan discussions, both on an informal basis and as part of formal Budget Committee hearings, for a number of years now,” Crapo says.
Although opinions vary on the execution of deficit reduction, Crapo says the formula is clear. “Get more members on board. Change and update the budget process. Make it bipartisan. Stop breaking the budget caps and stick to our bottom line. And, with most of the entitlement programs on course to be insolvent within a generation, begin to make the necessary structural reforms now, while protecting the current beneficiaries.”
It’s a tall order in this political environment, where CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell (for one) touts impeachment hearings as “must-see TV.” Long-winded committee discussions on moving the budget resolution to a two-year cycle and providing a more orderly and deliberative process for Senate consideration of budget resolutions — which are elements of the reform plan that Crapo backs — are not nearly as entertaining as potential removal of the president.
But there’s no question what is more important to the here and now, and generations to come. Presidents come and go, and Trump will be out of the White House by 2025, if not sooner. If the national debt continues to pile up at the rate it has since the early ’90s, then God help us.
Malloy writes for Idaho Politics Weekly. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.