sen. Ron Johnson Suggests Real Tax Responsibility: Social Security Approval, Annual Health Care Spending

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

Johnson proposed that Social Security and health care, which currently fall under 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. Rather than going on autopilot, Congress should evaluate and approve spending on the programs.

Johnson, who is up for re-election in November in a race that could determine the makeup of the Senate, put forward the idea during an appearance on “The Regular Joe Show” in his home state of Wisconsin.

And it sends links in search of their smelling salts. Exhibition A:

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‘Autopilot’ Releases

During his appearance on the podcast, Johnson explained, “Social Security and Medicare, if you qualify for the right, you just get it, no matter 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 compulsory spending. It’s on autopilot. It’s never – you’re just not doing proper supervision. You don’t get in there and fix the programs that go bankrupt. It just goes on autopilot. As long as it goes on autopilot, we keep piling up debt.”

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

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The statement continued,

“The senator’s point was that without the fiscal discipline and oversight typical of discretionary spending, Congress has allowed guaranteed benefits for programs like Social Security and Medicare to be threatened. This needs to be addressed by Congress taking its responsibilities seriously to ensure seniors don’t have to wonder if the programs they depend on remain solvent.”

But that didn’t stop Senate Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) from going on the offensive, 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, living within a realistic budget. Under a zero-based budgeting system, all government programs and other expenditures would be reviewed and evaluated at the beginning of each fiscal year, requiring expenditures 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 whether the funding for a particular program is doing what it was intended to do, and whether the program is still viable.

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

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

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Zero-based legislation introduced last year

Ron Johnson isn’t the first senator to think a zero-based budget system would be a good idea. In July 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. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Braun (R-IN) also signed up as co-sponsors of the bill.

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

What is happening now is that Democrats, knowing that the midterm elections are a grim prospect for them, will now try to attack a common sense approach to control uncontrollable government spending as a political weapon to win the Senate seat of Johnson to turn in November. At least we know what the Democrats’ priorities are.

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