Both spending bins are pretty much what it says on the tin. Mandatory spending is mandatory: Congress creates a law that allocates a certain amount of money to a program, along with further instructions on how the program’s budget will be calculated in the future, and further money is allocated by law in accordance with those instructions. These are “mandatory” expenditures because Congress has already earmarked funding; this does not need to be done every subsequent year as this funding is already a statutory requirement from now on.
Discretionary spending is everything else. It only exists year after year under various appropriations acts where large masses of programs are thrown out with the budgets based on who is on which committee and how much influence they have. Rebuilding bridges or creating a new high-speed rail service from point A to point B is discretionary because it gets thrown a certain amount of money, and if it needs a penny extra, the departments responsible for those programs will have to go back and beg.
So-called entitlement programs usually act as mandatory spending because it would be a train wreck, and sure enough no the high-speed kind known in government circles as the G — the goddamn Senate, which drags its buttocks on camera every year to fight over whether we’re going to keep paying people the Social Security checks they’ve earned or just tell those Americans to sweep the sand that year. infrastructure projects and actually any other government expenditures that have not been legislated by a previous Congress are discretionary projects—Congress can decide to stop appropriating money for them at its discretion, and then they languish or simply die.
You already know where this is going, of course. Republicans on Tuesday’s podcast tried to create the impression that veterans with cancer are trying to cheat the system with a bill that provides full funding for their treatment instead of “discretionary” funding each year. Senator Ron Johnson took the opportunity to complain that everything the government does should be thrown in the “choice” bin. That includes Medicare and Social Security, two mandatory spending programs that Republicans have tried to cut for decades.
“It never is, you just don’t do proper oversight. You don’t go in there and fix the programs that failed, it’s just on autopilot. We have to do everything we can to turn it into discretionary spending, so it’s all evaluated so we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken,” grumbled Johnson.
Now, there’s a reason why Social Security, Medicare, and similar large-scale programs are on “autopilot” mode, and Ron Johnson’s existence is nine-tenths of the reason. The reason Congress imposes permanent appropriations on permanent programs is that Congress, and especially the Senate, is a barely coherent, largely incompetent clown show that now routinely brings the government to its knees as various perpetually campaigning Republicans look to demonstrate. their pet issues, blocking federal funding for everything else until they get their target. This can lead to government offices being closed (no funding!), government services temporarily suspended (still no funding!) and, yes, it can lead to the government not being able to write checks because there is either no approved budget. writing these checks or not budget allowed for someone to pick up the printed checks and drop them off at the US Post Office.
But it’s not about a shutdown, which until recently was rare enough that Congress rarely even had to consider the possibility. That’s because trying to get the entire United States’ Social Security or Medicare programs to be renegotiated and passed in every Senate every year is a concept so horribly ridiculous that it would compel the country’s sanity to even contemplate it. What Ron Johnson is proposing is that the Senate will debate every last damn year whether the government will follow through on its past promises to send Social Security recipients a federally determined amount based on how much they’ve paid into the system over their lifetime… or will, every year, simply say to screw and cut your checks in half because Ron Johnson thinks retired Americans these days should either go back to work or hurry up and die.
Every. One. year.
The reason why we don’t as a country is self-explanatory. Even the Senate knows the Senate is full of incompetent, greedy bastards. These people would sell their grandmothers for pocket change, so it’s considered a long time before we simply eliminate Medicare coverage or Social Security checks and tell every American in both programs to hold their breath while Ron Johnson or Ted Cruz do another little dance. The Senate floor was considered a non-starter when the programs were drafted and passed into law. Ron Johnson can’t be trusted to babysit your kids for three hours without accidentally microwaving one of them. way he and his fellow pears could succeed in re-delegating the entire Social Security funding mechanism without, wittingly or unwittingly, turning the entire program into a shambles.
And how to This is why Johnson and other Republican senators are so passionate about things that fall into the “discretionary spending” bin. Government is most stable when Congress can create programs that work on their own even when Ron Johnson is trapped in a vending machine; anyone who clings to the notion of good, effective government would like to see as many programs as possible established with permanent or semi-permanent sources of funding, so that they are not constantly burdened with new expectations and mandates that last only twelve months.
The only reason why lawmakers want to put something in the discretionary spending bin so the next congress can come back and kill it. Perhaps the killing will be justified if a program authorized by the previous Congress has turned into a non-doing. Or maybe Sen. Pat Toomey wants to be seen as damning about veterans with cancer, but he’d like to be seen as the one who only decries veterans with cancer for one year before quietly reducing those health care budget by a third. , or half, or even nothing.
A majority of the Senate agreed to fully fund the veterans program so that future Congresses would have to specifically pass a new bill if they wanted to end that funding; Toomey and others wanted a version that would automatically terminate the program if it wasn’t specifically reauthorized from one year to the next. The veterans were seething with outrage, knowing full well that they would have to spend the rest of their lives trudging to the US Capitol to plead with senators not to take medical care away from them. Passing this law the first time around was a tall order that required God Only knows how many people and one extremely angry celebrity. The idea of doing it as an annual pilgrimage to the same wise senators who could barely be persuaded to hear their case the first time? Terrible.
Sen. Ron Johnson won’t get his way on this one. Turning Social Security or Medicare into “discretionary” programs would quickly cut them to ribbons, which Johnson knows and salivates over, but the ruse of making them “discretionary” isn’t nearly smart enough, even for most. careless voter to realize that Johnson means “the cut thing.” The only news here is that Johnson is so… shall we say emptythat he is willing to publicly muse about destroying two of America’s most important safety net programs, turning them into playthings for himself, Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell and the rest of his gang to bat around.
Yes. Even imagine that should be enough to give Americans in both programs. Which Medicare probably doesn’t cover, so maybe “Ron Johnson’s ideas are so awful that even listening to them gave me hives” should be a separate government program.
Funding can be discretionary because, with any luck, Ron Johnson won’t be in the Senate forever, and the program could end once Wisconsin agrees to put him back where they found him. Or maybe he’ll go to federal prison for that other case. We can dream.
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