Alan Simpson: Forget Bipartisanship – We Need Generationship

Alan Simpson, one of the chairs of the Simpson-Bowles Fiscal Commission and a member of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, co-wrote an op-ed with Ryan Schoenike, executive director of the Can Kicks Back, that appeared in the Dallas Morning News. It is reposted here.

The successful passage of the $1.1 trillion spending bill early this year marked a welcome reversal of the no-budget status quo in Congress, bringing a tiny sliver of tax and government spending certainty to our still-fragile economy.

Yet the enacted savings, aimed at reducing our unsustainable budget deficits, almost entirely affected discretionary spending, leaving long-term entitlement costs and an outdated tax code untouched.

While these issues have become partisan depth charges that would have sunk the recent spending negotiations even before they started, Congress and the Obama administration must not lose sight of the comprehensive fiscal reform so sorely needed to ensure economic opportunity and security for younger generations.

If we ever want to see a solution that addresses the fundamental drivers of our deficits and debt, President Barack Obama and our leaders in Congress simply have to address them as generational issues, and not Democratic and Republican sacred cows left to wander, holy and untouched.

Bipartisanship has long been the mantra for politicians working together to come to an agreement on policy issues. But when it comes to fiscal issues, the challenges our country faces are not just limited to the partisan politics of the next election. Rather, they are challenges that span across the generations.

To achieve a generationally balanced budget that provides retirement security for older Americans while also investing in the future of young Americans, lawmakers need to work across generational lines; we need “generationship.”

Today’s budget is anything but generationally balanced. We have shifted from a country that saves and invests to one that spends and consumes.

In the 1960s, we spent nearly equal amounts on entitlements and investments; around 30 percent of the budget went to each. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that trend will continue to change.

In 2014, entitlement spending is on automatic pilot and will take up 50 percent of the budget, while investments realized through our discretionary budget will take up 33 percent. By 2024, entitlements will grow to 55 percent and discretionary spending will fall to 23 percent. Add what we owe for interest on the debt to the cost of entitlements and 70 percent of our budget will be eaten up.

Our spending priorities largely benefit our older generations, while the cost of that is being solely funded by current and younger generations. The president’s most recent budget request highlights the disparity in the allocation of budget cuts: $1.622 trillion in cuts to the discretionary budget vs. $80 billion in cuts to mandatory (auto-pilot) spending over the next decade.

We will have crowded out the future to pay for today by seriously reducing investments in critical programs like education, infrastructure and national security.

If we don’t properly fund these latter programs, it will rob younger generations of the opportunities to make the country a better place for their children.

Cuts in discretionary spending simply do not — and will not — ever sufficiently offset the increase in long-term entitlement spending, leaving an increasingly heavy tax burden on younger generations.

The CBO projections show a significantly harsh fiscal situation in 2038, just as the millennial generation is sending its kids to college and making preparations for our own retirement. Despite these warnings, and their implications on the millennial generation, the president and congressional leaders have done precious little to engage our generation in the cross-generational cooperation so clearly needed to avert the CBO’s dismal 2038 projections.

While the recent omnibus spending bill is one small step in the right direction toward fiscal certainty, further inaction toward comprehensive, generationally balanced fiscal and tax reform will only lead to the absolute certainty that today’s older generations are leaving younger generations with a country much worse off — a scenario that has never happened in the history of our great country.

With congressional campaigns heating up in Texas and throughout the country, now is the time for the American people to send a clear message to congressional candidates: We need generational cooperation to come to a fiscal solution that provides for older generations while enabling opportunity and growth for younger generations. We desperately need generationship.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.