Editorials, Opinion

Discussion must start in shared reality

U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney is well within his rights to defend his vote against the continuing resolution that prevented the government shutdown on Sept. 30. In fact, we appreciate his willingness to engage. However, if we are to have an honest discussion, we must have a shared understanding of reality. And, at the moment, we do not.

Mooney says he voted for House appropriations bills for the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State. That is true.

There is, however, a missing piece of context: These bills largely kept spending at 2022 levels, in violation of the bipartisan debt ceiling agreement; and they were filled with far-right add-ons unrelated to funding, including restrictions on abortion care in the DOD and Agriculture bills. House Republicans knew these “poison pills” wouldn’t be approved by the Senate.

Mooney accuses President Biden’s administration of racking up $33 trillion in debt. However, U.S. Treasury records say otherwise. Looking at the national debt solely under Trump’s administration (excluding fiscal years that overlapped with Obama or Biden), the national debt went from $26.23 trillion in FY 2018 to $31.86 trillion at the end of FY 2020, adjusted for inflation — an increase of $5.63 trillion in three fiscal years. A good chunk of that debt is from Trump’s 2017 tax code changes, but another large piece was the CARES Act, which helped many stay afloat in the first year of the pandemic.

Under the Biden administration (excluding FY 2021, which overlapped with Trump), the national debt was $32.07 trillion in FY 2022, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will be $34.16 trillion by the end of FY 2024, or an increase of only $2.09 trillion in three years. While there is certainly an argument for not giving any administration a “blank check,” it is disingenuous to pin the entire debt on Biden when 94% of it precedes his presidency. 

Reasonable people can disagree over what contributes more to government debt: unpaid taxes or unnecessary government spending. Of course, reasonable minds can also disagree over what constitutes “unnecessary” spending. (For example, the 12 appropriation bills only deal with roughly 26% of government spending. The remainder is mandatory spending, such as Medicare and Social Security at 63%, and net interest at roughly 10%.)

Mooney is not wrong that a government taking in less than it spends is not sustainable in the long run. But we would like to point out that, according to the Internal Revenue Service, high-income earners who failed to file their taxes at least once between 2015 and 2020 owed the U.S. an estimated $68.6 billion in unpaid taxes and penalties. The 2,000 highest earning taxpayers owe almost $1 billion in unpaid taxes, but because the IRS is chronically underfunded and understaffed, it has only been able to recover $67 million. These tax-dodgers are the ones the 87,000 new IRS employees would be targeting, not West Virginia families.