Tag Archives: debt

How Much Would a Congressional Pay Cut Save?

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is proposing a 5 percent pay cut for members of Congress.

“In the face of our ever-deepening federal debt, the federal government must follow their example by finding common-sense solutions to do more with less,” she told The Hill.

A noble sentiment. And one that would save $8700 per member. With 535 members of the House and Senate, the total savings are $4.65 million.

The federal government is on track to spend about $3.8 trillion this year. Trimming $4.65 million means that for every $816,502 the federal government spends, it would save one dollar.

Rep. Kirkpatrick is proposing a 0.00122 percent spending cut. That’s not even a rounding error.

I do not intend to mock Rep. Kirkpatrick. Her spending cut is better than nothing, and I am glad she is proposing it. But placed in proper context, it is very, very small. It is a largely symbolic proposal, and should be treated as such. A 5 percent pay cut for Congress is no austerity measure.

More fundamental solutions would involve fundamental entitlement reform paired with a deregulatory stimulus. Cato’s Chris Edwards has some other spending cut ideas that deserve a serious look. They total $380 billion, or ten percent of federal spending.

Tax Freedom Day

Today, April 9, is Tax Freedom Day. The good folks at the Tax Foundation calculated how much money local, state, and federal governments harvested last year from taxpayers ($3,469,000,000,000), and compared that to national income ($12,901,000,000,000). At 26.89 percent of national income, you basically work until April 9 just to pay off your taxes.

April 9 is the national average; different states have different tax burdens, so Tax Freedom Day actually varies from state to state. If you live in Alaska, you already celebrated Tax Freedom Day on March 26. But if you live in Connecticut, you have to keep the champagne on ice until April 27.

That isn’t the whole picture, though. The federal government spends far more than it taxes. $1,414,000,000,000 more, last year alone. The burden of federal deficit spending adds another 40 days. Not even counting state and local deficit spending, that puts us out to May 19 by my calculations (May 17 by the Tax Foundation’s).

Even that’s not all. The hidden tax of federal regulation cost businesses and consumers an additional $1,187,000,000,000 last year, according to Wayne Crews’ soon-to-be-released 2010 edition of Ten Thousand Commandments (previous editions are online here). None of that extra trillion-plus actually shows up in the federal budget. Regulation eats up an additional 9.2 percent of national income, or 8.3 percent of GDP. So you have to work an additional 34 days until you pay off the federal regulatory burden.

It’s tempting to brush off regulatory costs, since most of them are borne by businesses. But remember, businesses pass on their costs to consumers. You pay for the regulatory state. Its costs are real.

Adding together total taxes, plus federal deficit spending, plus federal regulations pushes us out to June 22 by calculations, or June 20 by the Tax Foundation’s.

And remember, that’s leaving out state and local deficit spending. Nor does it count state and local regulations. I don’t have the data handy for that. But if they add up to at least $460,000,000,000 then we’re past the half-way mark of the year. Just to pay for government.

Even using the larger number of GDP ($14,253,000,000,000 in 2009), and leaving state and local deficit spending and regulation, we’re still talking 42.9 percent of the economy going to pay for government. That’s 157 days out of the year. You’re not free until June 6 even by that generous measure.

I’d argue that government has grown too big, but the data have already done that for me.