You wouldn’t think a candidate for public office would want their op/ed about one of the biggest issues of the campaign season to be published in one of the state’s largest publications the Friday before a national holiday weekend, but given the content of this op/ed from Heidi Heitkamp, maybe it was on purpose.
The liberal Senate candidate penned for the Grand Forks Herald a lengthy column about balancing the national budget. That’s all well and good, but what specifics is Heitkamp offering? Cutting through all the platitudes and political double-speak, Heitkamp is proposing a 5% reduction in her Senate office budget (should she get elected) as well as a freeze on congressional pay:
We must scrutinize every budget, and get rid of the waste and excess. That’s why I recently committed to cutting my office budget by 5 percent, and I will refuse any pay raise when the budget isn’t balanced.
We must stop spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need. Cutting back on federal travel and freezing the pay of members of Congress would save more than $1 billion alone.
She’s also committing to a Balanced Budget Amendment…as long as it doesn’t touch the nation’s largest entitlement programs Social Security and Medicare:
I also am committed to supporting a balanced budget amendment so long as that amendment protects Medicare and Social Security and provides flexibility for emergencies such as wars and natural disasters.
I believe Medicare and Social Security must be protected because our seniors have paid into those programs for years.
It’s unfair to balance the budget by gutting these programs that middle-class workers have paid into for so long.
For anyone with even a modicum of knowledge about the fiscal problems that are facing our state, this op/ed ought to inspire howls of laughter.
Heitkamp’s most specific policy proposal – saving $1 billion on congressional pay – is ridiculous. In 2011 the federal government spent about $400 million every single hour of every single day. Meaning Heitkamp’s savings on her proposed congressional pay freeze would fund the government for about 2.5 hours.
Attacking congressional pay might make for good populist politics, but it’s not a serious proposal for reforming the national budget.
Her other proposal, a balanced budget amendment with exemptions for Social Security and Medicare, is equally unserious. What Heitkamp is proposing is balancing the national budget on nothing other than discretionary spending.
The problem is that discretionary spending is roughly $1.3 trillion as compared to Social Security, Medicare and the interest on our national debt, which adds up to roughly $2.3 trillion.
Even if we eliminated every single penny of discretionary spending in the national budget – that would mean no funding for highways or the military or the national parks – we’d still be running a budget deficit given that the CBO is projecting a shortfall of around $1.4 trillion in the federal budget this year alone.
Now, maybe Heitkamp is banking on North Dakotans not having that firm of a grasp on the national budget picture (it wouldn’t surprise me if she had that low of an opinion of the state’s electorate). Maybe she’s hoping Berg will be too much of a coward to point out that the only way to truly balance the national budget is to, at the very least, reform Social Security and Medicare (a real possibility).
But either way, what Heitkamp is proposing wouldn’t fix anything. It’s more of the same Washington political speak, calculated to sound nice under superficial review but not actually meaning anything in terms of real reform.