Senators look to Carter-era solution for debt fix
| August 9, 2021 12:39 PM
Here’s something that I never thought I’d see — Idaho Republican Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo embracing a failed policy from the Carter administration for bringing spending under control.
And they managed to drag a few other Republican senators into the fray, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Braun of Indiana.
The magic bullet for curbing the $28 trillion debt? Zero-based budgeting, or as one Capitol Hill veteran put it many years ago, “Zip, Boom, Bang.” ZBB basically was laughed out of Washington and dubbed a nutty idea after Carter implemented it in the 1970s — and federal spending was a mere two-headed monster. Now, with the federal budget turned into the Planet of the Apes by comparison, it’s Republicans are leading the way on ZBB.
Risch introduced the Zero-Based Budget Act, which he says would cut wasteful spending by requiring government agencies to justify their spending levels every six years with a zero-based budget, and propose a reduction in expenditures by 2 percent.
“Congress must address its reckless spending problem,” Risch says. “The Zero-Based Budget Act will require agencies to produce a budget which clearly outlines potential cuts to reduce the growing national debt so we won’t leave future generations footing the bill.”
Spoiler alert: His bill is going nowhere during this Congress and progressive Democrats will not sign onto that plan. But Republicans will continue expressing frustrations over spending.
“Our current fiscal crisis is unsustainable,” says Crapo. “I remain committed to restoring the federal budget to balance and the Zero-Based Budget Act would require scrutiny and justification of every program funded by the American taxpayer.”
Crapo is right about spending levels being unsustainable. But considering all the years he has served on budget and finance committees that he’d come up with something more cerebral than “Zip, Boom, Bang.”
Cruz, mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2024 (if former President Trump does not run), puts a political spin on the situation. “The out-of-control spending and unrestricted expansion of our bloated federal government by this administration, aided by congressional Democrats, is causing an inflation crises — just one of the many crises facing American families and small businesses today. I’m proud to join with Sen. Risch to protect taxpayers from the burden of big government policies by forcing bureaucrats to routinely assess and cut inefficient or redundant government spending from their budgets. The Zero-Based Budget Act is a common-sense step toward reining in government spending and returning to fiscal sanity.”
The idea of zero-based budgeting produces nice political rhetoric and it worked brilliantly for Carter’s presidential campaign in 1976. In a practical application, it worked horribly. Zero-based budgeting did little to curb discretionary spending, caused massive amounts of bureaucratic paperwork and created a “use-it-or-lose-it” mentality for agency heads during the end of fiscal years.
The Republican senators have every right to be concerned about run-away spending under President Biden’s watch. But over the years, Republican presidents — from Reagan to Trump — have not been able to bring federal spending under control. There’s a lot of blame to go around for the $28 trillion debt.
Risch, Crapo and Cruz have been around long enough to know that discretionary spending — as much as it is growing with Democrats in charge — is only a small part of the problem. Roughly two-thirds of the budget, which includes Social Security and Medicare, is on auto-pilot and there’s no political appetite on either side of the aisle to make changes for future generations. So, the debt will keep growing even if Congress eliminated discretionary spending entirely. And members of Congress will continue to complain about too much spending.
It’s good that Cruz has been brought into the fold on the ZBB debate. If he runs for president, maybe he will look beyond warmed-over ideas from the Carter era and come up with a workable plan for putting the nation’s fiscal house in order.
Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.