Like many of you, I watched during the last several weeks as Congress tried to negotiate a bill to prevent the federal government from defaulting. While Congress has finally reached a compromise, the end product is insufficient to keep the country from accruing more debt that our children and grandchildren will eventually have to pay.
The recent debt debate we watched play out on the national stage was about only 30% of the entire federal budget, which goes toward discretionary spending. Even if Congress were to cut discretionary spending, which makes up approximately 70% of our budget, mandatory spending would remain the same. It’s imperative Congress address the main driver of our debt, mandatory spending, which goes toward entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. Legislation addressing the federal deficit is insufficient if it does not examine the biggest contributors to our financial crisis.
Let me break down the current budget:
Roughly 63% of the federal budget is mandatory spending for programs like Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.
Roughly 30% of the budget is discretionary spending.
Roughly 8% of the budget is the interest paid on the $31 trillion of U.S. debt.
The latest debate about the debt ceiling could have been avoided if Congress had passed the Time to Rescue United States’ Trusts (TRUST) Act in 2020, a bipartisan proposal by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) that creates a process for examining endangered federal trust funds. Federal programs like Medicare and Social Security are funded through a dedicated revenue source and managed by trust funds. However, current spending rates will cause program trust funds to be insolvent within the next decade. If the trust funds are depleted, 23% of Social Security benefits will be cut automatically. By doing nothing, Congress is guaranteeing Americans will not have needed resources in the near future.
The question is not what will happen when these trust funds are exhausted, but what can we do now to keep a quarter of the individuals using these programs from being left without resources once funding is gone? The TRUST Act presents an opportunity to reduce the deficit by creating a bipartisan process for Congress to review current spending before making cuts to any entitlement program.
Rather than waiting for senior citizens or low-income individuals to lose access to federal programs when trust funds become insolvent, Congress needs to be proactive. The federal government cannot continue committing generational theft by spending money the U.S. does not have. With the U.S. having more than $31 trillion in debt, Congress must create a process for reviewing mandatory spending.
Todd Weiler is a Utah Senator in District 8.