Johnson says time to get serious about U.S. fiscal futureUnderstanding the problem with the nation’s deficit and debt is the solution to fixing it, according to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. And Johnson is making it his mission to help the American public understand the problem. Johnson stopped in Superior on Monday to share what he learned by looking at the numbers.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Understanding the problem with the nation’s deficit and debt is the solution to fixing it, according to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
And Johnson is making it his mission to help the American public understand the problem. Johnson stopped in Superior on Monday to share what he learned by looking at the numbers.
“What I’ve been trying to do is I go around Wisconsin and a little bit around the country as well is just describe the problem,” Johnson said. “I’m obviously working in a United States senate that, unfortunately, is not accomplishing a whole lot. I think the thing to do between now, and hopefully when we have a real leader, is start addressing these issues and informing some of the people here in Wisconsin about what the problem is.”
An accountant by trade, and founder of Pacur, a plastics manufacturer from Oshkosh, Wis., Johnson said the problem lies in the growth in government.
Before World War I, federal spending accounted for about 2 percent of the gross domestic product. While spending spiked to about 24 percent of GDP during WWI, and more than 40 percent during the WWII, government spending today accounts for spending levels similar to those in the first world war, according to a graph produced by Johnson using figures from the Office of Management and Budget, Bureau of Economic Analysis.
When combined with state and local government spending, the cost rises to 39.2 percent, nearing the government’s share of GDP spending in Norway.
“We’re at the lower level of European socialist nations,” Johnson said. He said federal spending is on a trajectory to go to 35 percent of the GDP.
“You always hear about these Draconian cuts, but we’re really not cutting anything,” Johnson said. He said while the U.S. House of Representatives budget would slow the rate of growth when compared to the president’s budget, both budgets would increase spending over the next decade. The house budget would increase spending to $4.9 trillion by 2022 while the presidential budget puts government spending on a trajectory to reach $5.8 trillion that year.
“A reduction in the rate of growth is all that we’re really talking about,” Johnson said.
Part of the problem is the house and senate is trying to reduce $1.3 trillion in deficit spending with about $1.3 trillion of the budget, the discretionary portion of the budget, Johnson said. While congress allocated about 68 percent of the federal budget in the 1960s with the remaining 32 percent dedicated to mandatory programs and interest on debt, today, congress only has control over about 36 percent of the budget today, control that is expected to diminish to 25 percent in 10 years, he said.
“We went cash negative with Social Security in about 2010,” Johnson said, adding that Medicare is in worse shape. “In other words, we’re paying out more in benefits than we’re bringing in,” about $50 billion in 2010. It is projected be $600 billion in the hole by 2035.
Overall, Johnson said, the government’s unfunded liabilities exceed the nation’s assets by $20 trillion currently.
“I really do believe that we all want a prosperous America,” Johnson said. “We all want every American to have an opportunity to build a life for themselves and their family. Now how do you achieve that?”
Growing government isn’t the answer, Johnson said.
“You have to grow the private sector,” Johnson said. He said vilifying business, heaping on regulations and the tax rate on business is making American businesses less competitive in the global market.
“You have to realize the No. 1 solution is growing our economy,” Johnson said. “And you have to address Medicare and Social Security … Not once has he (President Obama) put a plan on the table to save either Social Security or Medicare.”
Obama has called on congress to work on a bipartisan basis to preserve Social Security for seniors, survivors and workers who develop disabilities. According to the White House website, he believes current beneficiaries should not see their basic benefits reduced, and he won’t accept an approach that slashes benefits for future generations.
Even if people don’t like the budget put forth by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, Wis., Johnson said that at least gives the legislature a place to start the debate about Social Security and Medicare.
“That’s what Paul Ryan has done with his budget. Whether you like his solution or not, at least he’s got a plan on the table that you can evaluate and start working on,” Johnson said.