EDITORIAL: Bursting budget

It’s always about the next election, and nothing more.

The two-year federal budget agreement poised to pass the Senate this week will give America a break from the appropriations brinkmanship that rattles markets a few times each year. Stability and certainty are an immediate result of this bipartisan compromise, which wipes out any chance of a second act of Shutdown Theater, at least until late 2015.

However, the deal brokered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., makes no major changes or reforms to a government in desperate need of them. And it does almost nothing to rein in the prolific deficit spending that threatens to consume the U.S. economy in the decades ahead.

The plan means lawmakers will spend less time posturing over the next budget crisis and more time campaigning in 2014. How very fortunate for the taxpaying, voting public.

The budget sets discretionary spending at about $1.012 trillion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, replacing some sequester reductions with other savings. Democrats get more money for Head Start preschools and other favored programs, and Republicans get more defense spending. The total federal budget, including the country’s insolvent entitlement programs and interest payments on its $17.2 trillion in debt, is about $7.4 trillion through Sept. 30, 2015.

This budget agreement is supposed to produce a net deficit reduction of $23 billion. It sounds like a good chunk of change — until you realize those savings are spread over 10 years.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, cumulative federal deficit spending over those same 10 years will total $6.3 trillion. As NBC Politics points out, the $23 billion in savings from the budget agreement represents a 0.36 percent reduction in deficit spending. By 2023, the national debt will reach at least $23.5 trillion.

And that figure doesn’t begin to address Washington’s unfunded liabilities: the Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare benefits that have been promised but can’t be paid for under the current tax code. Depending on whose math you believe, that figure is anywhere between $60 trillion and $120 trillion. As it is, growing entitlement programs are on a course to consume all federal revenues by 2045, leaving nothing for Cabinet departments, roads or anything else.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, businesses and families have been forced to re-evaluate their finances. They have identified waste and fluff. They figured out what they could do without.

We’re still waiting for Washington to join that reality. Research shows Head Start is a boondoggle. The United States already accounts for more than 40 percent of the world’s total defense spending. Obamacare is a disaster. Congress fouls everything it touches. And while the country’s inflation-adjusted median household income has plunged 6.6 percent since 2000, it has shot up 23.3 percent in D.C., according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

If voters fail to demand leadership and tough choices from their representatives, Washington will never change. It will always be about the next election, and nothing more.

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