[pullquote3 quotes=”true” align=”center”]Jackson of All Trades[/pullquote3]
Senior Staff Writer
Sitting in the office at the Washington D.C. location for the United Parcel Service for an interview, I was pelted with questions from multiple executives regarding my resumé, past experience, and my time at F&M.
Pretty standard stuff. My first three meetings with various managers went by seamlessly, for which I credit the Career Services office for helping prepare me to face the large majority of questions I faced.
This is not what I want to write about, however. The most challenging and most interesting portion of the interview came when I sat down in the office of my final interviewer. He began with fairly normal and mundane questions. “Tell me about your experience with The College Reporter.” “How do you deal with deadlines?” “Please describe yourself.” It was about midway through our interview that he threw me a curveball, one that no one could have prepared me for.
“Take a couple minutes and analyze the current budget crisis for me. What would you cut? Why? How would you convince your fellow Congressmen to go along with your plan?”
He was clearly testing my ability to think critically on my feet. Based on my own admittedly biased opinion, I think I did fairly well. I base that estimation purely on the fact that his question morphed into a 20-minute conversation about the topic and he seemed to agree with everything I said. Regardless, it got me thinking more about the nation’s current struggles with its budget and the best way to address it.
Given that I am a government major, it should surprise no one that the topic of the national budget and the political turmoil surrounding it has provided many of my professors with easy fodder with which to generate class discussion. After listening to many different points of view and considering a wide variety of viewpoints, I feel like the budget crisis can be summarized into two critical points.
For starters, everyone wants to cut peripheral components of the budget, most of which have little impact on the overall situation the nation currently finds itself in. Secondly, the reason for the gridlock that has resulted stems from the polarized nature of American politics.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. government spent approximately $3.6 trillion in 2011. Its revenues, which amounted to around $2.3 trillion, were over a trillion dollars shy of breaking even. Of that $3.6 trillion, Social Security accounted for $725 billion, Medicare for $480 billion, and defense for approximately $700 billion. Combined, these three account for $1.9 trillion of federal expenditures, or just over 52 percent of the budget.
Everything else—foreign aid, spending on environmental initiatives, federal Medicaid payments, government salaries, education, etc.—equals about 48 percent of America’s budget. This fact alone mandates that, to significantly reduce America’s deficit, the federal government must either cut or reform Medicare, Social Security, or the Defense Department. There is simply no other practical way to do it.
But why is it so difficult to do so? The answer lies mostly at the feet of America’s polarized political state. In general, Republicans love defense and Democrats love social programs.
Representatives and Senators for both parties are responsible for representing their respective constituencies in the federal government. Unfortunately, America’s Republicans and Democrats in the general populace are equally, if not more, polarized then their representatives in government.
The point of this column is not to decipher why this is; that discussion would require a separate article. Regardless, the polarization out there is indeed real. Because of this, government officials recognize that, if they go along with a bill or a budget that means significant cuts to what their respective electorates support, they will likely be voted out of office. For Republicans, that means defense is untouchable and for Democrats, social programs cannot be cut.
If a politician is going to risk his or her political career on one vote, that vote better be important. Many Americans act surprised and angry when the government comes within days or hours of failing to pass a new budget or addressing America’s rising debt. It shouldn’t be all that surprising, however. In a divided Congress where neither party has a majority in either house, deadlock in this polarized political environment is inevitable.
Until people realize slashing the budgets for the EPA, USAID, and the Department of Education will not fix America’s budget crisis, the federal debt will continue to rise. Significant reforms and cuts must come from the Defense Department, Social Security, and Medicare. This will not happen in America’s extremist political environment.
Will the cuts be painful and difficult? Yes, they will. No one denies that. But the cuts that we make now to fix America’s burgeoning budget crisis will pale in comparison to the struggles that will result if America can no longer pay for Social Security or Medicare. In case you were wondering, that’s exactly where we’re headed.