A Democrat's Case for Fiscal Responsibility

Special Guests: Zach Moller

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This week on Facing the Future, we heard from Zach Moller, director of the economic program at Third Way, a center-left think tank. Moller recently co-authored an issue brief titled “A Democratic Case for Fiscal Responsibility” and he made that case in our discussion. Concord Coalition policy director Tori Gorman and chief economist Steve Robnson joined the conversation.

Moller explained that his issue brief “is speaking to fellow Democrats about why we need to focus on fiscal issues more so than we have in recent years. The numbers don’t lie. We’ve reached a point where making progress on Democratic priorities isn’t possible without a newfound commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

One item of concern he cited is the rapid increase in spending on interest payments. “We’re burning this money,” he said. “Democrats should care because it’s all about priorities. Spending more on interest is less money to spend on kids, national parks, food inspectors, and more.”

Another problem Moller has with budget priorities is the gap between what the federal government spends on children versus what it spends on the elderly. “When we’re talking about spending on children, the biggest pieces of this are refundable tax credits like the child tax credit, health care spending like the State Children’s Health Insurance Program [SCHIP], which is health care for children whose parents have low income, and nutrition assistance like SNAP [food stamps]. And then, Title One education spending in the Department of Education which tends to go to lower income schools. Those are kind of the big categories, and we’re spending about $1 on a child for every $4 we spend on an elderly person.”

And speaking of the elderly, Moller said that Social Security reform must be a priority for Democrats as well. “Social Security is undoubtedly one of the Democrats’ greatest policy achievements. Without a rescue, it’s going to fail to pay full benefits that beneficiaries expect in 2033 or 2034. The trust fund is shrinking and when those assets run out we’re looking at about a 23 percent cut across the board,” he said.

It’s tough politically, but Moller said, “Democrats have to wrestle with that and figure out what is a good path forward. Social Security is not going to be something that Democrats are going to solve by themselves. It’s going to take bipartisan support.”

Despite the challenges, Moller remains hopeful that there can be bipartisan solutions. 

“There’s going to be lots of moments to have all these conversations,“ he said. “We’re going to need tax reform to increase revenue from those who can most afford it and reduce distortions in our economy so that we can maintain a pro-growth footing. I think a commission would be a great idea to look at improving the finances of Social Security because Social Security is going to have to be done on a bipartisan basis. So why not start with a bipartisan Social Security Commission? Our healthcare system needs to lower costs for patients and for taxpayers. So we’re going to need more health reforms to save the federal government money. And look, there’s going to be moments for thoughtful government efficiency and modernization if we want government to work for everyone. Every politician wants the government to work better. They may have slightly different definitions of ‘better’ but if everyone wants government to do better, we need a more modern and efficient administrative capacity.” 

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL in Concord N.H., and it is also available via podcast. Join us as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook, and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.

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