Finley: Deficit should be shutdown line in sand

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer wait for a meeting at the White House December 11, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Please, shut it down.

That's all I could think while watching the atrocious Oval Office bargaining session between Donald Trump and Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on how to avert a government shutdown.

If this is the government we're paying for, close it up and stop wasting our money. We can't afford to keep it open anyway.

While Trump and the Democratic duo were playing Yo Mama over the $5 billion the president wants for his border wall, nobody mentioned that if the continuing resolution on spending is passed -- with or without the wall money -- the federal government this year will post a $1 trillion budget deficit. That's one-third more in spending than will be generated in revenue.

I've always bought the argument that a balanced budget amendment is a bad idea because it would tie the government's hands in times of war and recession.

But we've been at perpetual war since 2001. Had we not been able to charge the $5 trillion price tag to the national credit card, would we have made different choices?

We are also experiencing the most prosperous economy in 20 years. Yet we'll post a deficit larger than last year's $779 billion. Despite the tax cuts, which reduced income from corporate taxes by about $92 billion, the federal Treasury enjoyed a slight increase in revenue.  

If we can't balance the budget when the economy is surging, when will be able to? Clearly, even at a 3.5 percent clip, we're not growing our way out of deficits.

Balancing the budget would require slashing nearly all discretionary spending, pegged at $1.3 trillion for the 2019 fiscal year. Or raising taxes. Or trimming entitlements -- Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, food stamps and other welfare programs. 

Or a combination of all three. That's an unsavory choice, but one a sound economic future demands and leaders focused on the health of the nation would deliver.  

For the past decade, the national debt -- now $21.46 trillion -- has exceeded 100 percent of the nation's total annual economic output. The Congressional Budget Office says cutting that percentage from this year's 108 percent to a less terrifying 41 percent by 2033 would require reducing the deficit by $830 billion in 2019.

Simply maintaining the ratio at 100 percent would take a deficit cut of $270 billion.  

That's what should have preoccupied the Oval Office belly bumpers. But I can't recall when I've heard anyone in Washington -- Republican or Democrat -- mention the words debt and deficit.

Instead, we're about to endure the false drama of a government shutdown deadline that will produce a crisis spending plan put together without debate or the setting of priorities.

And Trump, Pelosi and Schumer are preoccupied only with who'll get the blame.

Trump could come out on top in the eyes of the American people if he would lose his obsession with a too-expensive wall and present his antagonists with a balanced budget. Or at least one that sets the budget on a short course toward balance.

That's a cause worthy of a government shutdown.

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.