Sen. Ron Johnson Suggests Actual Fiscal Responsibility: Approving Social Security, Medicare Spending Annually

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Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) suggested the unthinkable on Wednesday in the form of actual fiscal responsibility and oversight.

Johnson proposed that Social Security and Medicare, which currently fall into the category of mandatory spending in the federal budget, be approved annually by Congress. 

The idea would be akin to a zero-based budgeting system, to Johnson’s thinking. Instead of being on auto-pilot, Congress would have to evaluate and approve the spending for the programs.

Johnson, who is up for reelection in November in a race that could determine the make up of the Senate, floated the idea during an appearance on “The Regular Joe Show” in his home state of Wisconsin.

And it is sending the left in search of their smelling salts. Exhibit A:

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‘Automatic Pilot’ Spending

During his appearance on the podcast, Johnson explained that, “Social Security and Medicare, if you qualify for the entitlement, you just get it no matter what the cost.” He continued:

“Our problem in this country is that more than 70 percent of our federal budget, of our federal spending, is all mandatory spending. It’s on automatic pilot. It never — you just don’t do proper oversight. You don’t get in there and fix the programs going bankrupt. It’s just on automatic pilot. As long as things are on automatic pilot, we just continue to pile up debt.”

As expected, it was an opportunity for Democrats and the left to accuse Republicans of secretly plotting to destroy Social Security and Medicare. Johnson’s office, in a statement to The Hill said that Johnson “never suggested putting Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block.” 

The statement continued,

“The Senator’s point was that without fiscal discipline and oversight typically found with discretionary spending, Congress has allowed the guaranteed benefits for programs like Social Security and Medicare to be threatened. This must be addressed by Congress taking its responsibilities seriously to ensure that seniors don’t need to question whether the programs they depend on remain solvent.”

But that didn’t stop Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) from going on the attack, saying, “They’re saying the quiet part out loud. MAGA Republicans want to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block.”

Johnson himself responded to Schumer’s accusation:

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How Zero-Based Budgeting Works

Zero-based budgeting would force the federal government to do what most Americans do to manage their finances, live within a realistic budget. Under a zero-based budget system, all government programs and other spending would be reviewed and evaluated at the beginning of each fiscal year, forcing the spending to be evaluated and justified.

Such a system would force Congress to look at every bit of government spending from a “dollar zero” perspective to determine if the funding for a particular program is doing what it was intended to do, and that the program is still feasible. 

Carol Gurvitz is a former financial analyst at the Congressional Research Service. She says:

“Activities, methods of performance and levels of effort are evaluated on the basis of their contribution towards achieving the desired objectives of the organization… [It] thus tries to see how well the organization as a whole works towards accomplishing its goals and how efficiently each part of the organization operates.”

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Zero-Based Legislation Introduced Last Year

Ron Johnson is not the first Senator to think that a zero-based budget system would be a good idea. In July of 2021, both Idaho Senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, introduced the Zero Based Budget Act. 

The bill would require all government agencies to defend their spending with a zero-based budget. Also signing on as cosponsors of the bill were Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Braun (R-IN).

As you might expect from Republicans, the bill exempts the Department of Defense. Also as might be expected when Democrats are in charge, the bill went nowhere. 

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What happens now is that Democrats, who know the midterm election is a grim prospect for them, will now try to attack a commonsense approach to controlling out of control government spending as a political weapon to flip Johnson’s Senate seat in November. At least we know what Democrats priorities are.

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