MAI: Students must march for fiscal sense, not climate change


Column: Beneath the Surface

The Democratic Party has decided to make universal, single-payer healthcare a key component of its 2020 platform. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vt.) “Medicare for All” plan, which is projected to cost $30 trillion over the next 10 years and abolish private health insurance, has become the defunct proposal for candidates such as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro. 

The Democratic Party has also chosen to make climate change the issue of the future. Candidates have released various plans to deal with climate change, each costing trillions of dollars. Harris’ plan mandates that 50% of all new cars and SUVs have zero-emissions by 2030 and 100% have zero-emissions by 2035. Sanders’ “Green New Deal” initiative is estimated to cost $16.3 trillion for more than ten years, and it would eliminate fossil fuel use by 2050. 

Given the sheer scale of the global climate and the fact that China and India are the key drivers of global carbon emissions, the attempt by the Democratic Party to frame the issue as one that the United States is solely responsible for in solving is dishonest. Similarly, the cost and substance of its proposals to overhaul the American healthcare system are highly impractical and needlessly destructive. 

Less dramatic but just as disheartening, the Republican Party has moved away from its once admirable goal of balancing the budget, chipping away at the national debt and reducing the size of the federal government through spending cuts. Despite having controlled both houses of the United States Congress and the presidency in 2017, the Republicans passed a budget with a $666 billion deficit. Just this summer they voted to suspend the debt ceiling and cancel budget caps designed to prevent lawmakers from further reckless spending. 

While the Democrats revel in trillion-dollar programs and the Republicans enable unprecedented levels of spending, the national debt, which currently stands more than $23 trillion, continues to rise at an unprecedented pace. 

In his eight years in office, former President Barack Obama added nearly $9 trillion to the national debt, increasing it 74% to more than $19.5 trillion. President Donald J. Trump’s tenure has proven to be equally disappointing with the 2019 federal spending topping out at approximately $4.5 trillion and a budget deficit of $1 trillion. The administration’s strategy for dealing with the national debt — growing the economy while simultaneously cutting taxes and spending — has yet to materialize, as spending and deficits have continued to rise despite record economic growth. 

The main drivers of the national debt stem from one area of federal spending: entitlements. The entitlement programs: Social Security Administration (SSA), Medicare and Medicaid, are by law considered “mandatory spending.” It means that when Congress makes the budget for each fiscal year, the percentage of federal revenue that goes toward these programs is automatically accounted for without debate. 

As the debt increases and interest rates begin to rise, servicing it will crowd out spending on important areas such as national defense. Borrowing costs will increase making it harder for individuals to borrow money to buy homes or start businesses, as the federal government struggles to service the debt by meeting interest payment obligations. Taxes and inflation will rise and the average American’s standard of living will drop. 

Unless entitlement programs are meaningfully reformed, the coming decades will see an unsustainable federal budget that risks impeding economic growth and stifling the financial future of the next generation of Americans. 

Our current politics reflects none of the anxiety and urgency that should accompany our nation’s ever-worsening fiscal health. The irresponsibility on the part of both political parties to form a consensus on reforming entitlements and making other spending cuts to address the national debt is alarming. 

Fiscal responsibility used to be a bipartisan issue. Together, former President Bill Clinton and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich managed to turn the budget deficit into a surplus, restrict welfare spending increases to 2.5%, and drive the debt to GDP ratio down from 64% to 55%. 

The topic of fiscal control has yet to make an appearance in any of the Democratic debates and Republicans continue to remain largely apathetic to the issue. It appears that, for the foreseeable future, any hope of a Clinton-Gingrich approach to fiscal policy is lost. 

But the real losers of this negligence by our political elites. Instead, Generation X, Millenials and the upcoming Generation Z will be tasked to fix this mess. Given record levels of student loan debt, the next generation cannot afford to see tax increases and a decline in their standard of living brought on by a fiscal crisis in Washington, D.C.

The Beltway seems intent on ignoring the national debt until the eleventh hour. 

Instead of marching for ludicrous climate change proposals, students would be better-served demanding that their federal representatives reform entitlement programs, control spending and begin to reverse our nation’s fiscal course in order to secure a sustainable future. 

Matthew Mai is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in public policy. His column, "Beneath the surface" runs on alternate Thursdays.

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