It’s easy to find fault with a major budget deal in Washington. The one just passed by Congress is no exception. Those on the right say it does too much, while those on the left will say it does too little. That’s a sign that it may be just right.
Congress has been grappling with ballooning deficits for several years, and in 2011 a bipartisan budget agreement put “hard caps” on federal spending, including defense and domestic programs. But since then the country has been hit with several huge storms that racked up $90 billion in repair costs that the federal government has agreed to cover. And even as the U.S. military budget has held steady, the ongoing fight against Islamic terrorists, as well as the nuclear threat from North Korea, have driven up necessary military spending. In the meantime, our military equipment has aged and our readiness has declined.
There is also general bipartisan agreement that domestic priorities like children’s health and medical research deserve adequate funding too. And the country’s well-documented infrastructure needs will require additional federal spending, especially since it will leverage trillions of investment dollars repatriated by åU.S. corporations under the recent federal tax overhaul.
The sobering reality is that for the foreseeable future, federal deficits may top $1 trillion a year. That’s even with a growing economy generating more tax revenue for the federal government. Combined with the recent federal tax cut, the budget deal could add over $500 billion to this year’s deficit. Without action on these deficits, in a decade, total U.S. debt could exceed $30 trillion, a 50 percent increase over the current national debt.
The proposed agreement before Congress would raise the national debt ceiling through next November, after the midterm elections. That should give Congress and President Trump the breathing room to get down to reforming the main federal domestic spending programs that consume a large share of the federal budget. I’ve talked before about the necessary modest reforms to Social Security and Medicare that can keep them solvent for both current and future beneficiaries. If these sensible reform measures are not undertaken, our kids and grandkids could face a national debt of such proportions that their standard of living could fall below the current generation’s.
Trump has an opportunity here to put his deal-making skills to work for the good of the nation. It will require adroit presidential leadership to bring politically wary congressional representatives together to address these tough issues. The president prides himself on his willingness to take chances to achieve breakthrough deals, as he demonstrated with the first federal tax overhaul in decades. He will now have the chance to apply a similar leading hand to needed reforms of the nation’s main entitlements.
The recent stock market gyrations add urgency to the imperative of addressing long-term federal spending. Sustained economic growth and long-term entitlement reforms are the best way to bring down deficits. That calls for a steady hand in Washington to ensure that the economy continues to expand and does not slip into recession.
Given the bipartisan coalition dedicated to making progress on tough issues that seems to be emerging in Congress, there is also an opening to address immigration reform in a comprehensive fashion. This too will require give and take on both sides. Improved border security must be part of any deal, in exchange for extending a path to citizenship for 1.8 million “dreamers,” young Americans who were brought here as children. If they have grown up to become productive citizens without criminal records, they should be allowed to stay. If they’re members of gangs like MS-13, they should be rounded up and deported.
Once these contentious issues are addressed, the U.S. can get down to what it does best: leading the world with a strong economy and serving as a beacon of freedom to people everywhere.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.