Last week I was surprised by two statements. First, a prominent conservative business leader in our community told me, “Medicaid expansion is fiscally responsible because, after all, it’s free.” Second, Governor Mead in the State of the State address said at least three different times, “Wyoming federal taxpayer dollars are being left on the table and sent to other states.” Let’s analyze these statements from a global, national, state and local level.
The global wealth of the world is estimated at $180T. The unfunded liabilities of the U.S. (chiefly Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) are estimated at $200T. In order to keep pace with paying for these entitlements and discretionary spending – like defense – the U.S. is borrowing $582B per year. When you do the simple math this breaks down to $1M per minute. Just to be sure you caught that, the United States is spending more than it takes in at a rate of one million dollars per minute! This isn’t a Republican/Democrat issue. It’s an American issue. The non-partisan, justifiably supported opinion of most people in Wyoming and in Teton County is that our federal government is simply out of control.
So, what does this have to do with Governor Mead’s statement? Well, Wyoming is a receiver state. Wyoming receives more back from the federal government than they put in. In macro terms, Wyoming’s financial relationship with the federal government is part of the fiscal problem of the federal government spending more than they take in. So, to say Wyoming tax dollars are being left on the table and sent to other states is simply not true. There is no pot of money that is sitting in a Medicaid expense account being filled up by all states and taken out only by some states. When Medicaid is expanded the only way to pay for it is through deficit spending. That’s a simple (though discouraging) fact when the payer of a program is $19T in the hole. When Wyoming chooses not to expand Medicaid it is choosing the fiscally responsible path to not add to our country’s burgeoning national debt – currently at $19T and rising (remember, at a rate of $1M per minute). Wyoming’s choice to not take more federal money is a simple recognition that you cannot get blood from a turnip.
And, what of our local conservative business leader’s comment that Medicaid expansion is “free”. It should be obvious – money doesn’t fall out of the sky. Multimillions of dollars of funds from a “broke” federal government does not come “free of charge”. The resulting indebtedness of our nation and inflation of our currency (the creation of money out of thin air by the Federal Reserve) is felt at a very personal level. Debt and inflation aren’t a distant governmental problem, they are our problem. If we continue to think of money as “free” we will continue to think of spending it as a very logical and convenient solution that is somehow unattached to ourselves.
Luckily, we in Teton County are insulated from this illogical and irrational spending behavior. Or, are we? Solutions involving more spending are being discussed and proposed everywhere one turns: hire a housing director for over $100,000; ask for $30M in general sales tax revenue; spend $34M on the rec center expansion; spend $10M for wildlife underpasses; and the list goes on. The grand total of potential spending exceeds $148M.
Putting the numbers and harsh realities aside for a moment, some have argued that Medicaid should be expanded with the condition that if the federal government doesn’t pay, Wyoming is out. But, does that really make sense? If we increase the number of Wyomingites on Medicaid rolls to the tune of tens of thousands do we really think that we will simply be able to pull the plug and say, “Never mind. We know you were counting on this program but it’s no longer available and it’s all the federal government’s fault”? When people become dependent on governmental programs they come to depend on them. When entitlement programs are rolled out, those receiving their benefits come to feel entitled to them. If Wyoming were to expand Medicaid we would find ourselves in the exact same predicament as the federal government, with obligations to pay for entitlements and no other way to do so but through deficit spending. “But, that would be the federal government’s problem”, you say. Fair enough. But, who is the federal government? Who really is $19T in debt? Who is spending more than they take in at a rate of $1M per minute? Who is proposing taking in more federal dollars through Medicaid that simply don’t exist? And, who is stating that these spending solutions involve “free” money. It’s US (not the U.S.) – that’s who!
What You Can Do
The solution is blaringly obvious. Spending at a rate of $1M per minute calls for one solution – and only one: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Just bury your head in the sand and keep swiping that credit card. Ha! Ha! In all seriousness, with a problem this big the solution involves becoming active in issues you can actually influence and have control over. Those issues are local. We have plenty of them. The tax increases being proposed are still up in the air but when things settle I will be calling on you to take action – to show up to meetings, to talk with your elected public servants, to email them. Get ready! Remember the problem is ours and the solution is too.
Jackson Hole Tea Party
Free Market Economy