While conservative political candidates talk of reducing spending, the reality is that federal government spending is so intertwined in our lives that spending reductions — much less actual cuts — are almost impossible to fathom.
Today’s Wichita Eagle carries a column by Wichita State University professor H. Edward Flentje that spotlights the “huge disconnect [that] exists between the reality of federal spending and the campaign rhetoric” of candidates seeking the Republican party nominations for United States Congress from the first district of Kansas and the fourth district of Kansas.
Flentje explains the impact of federal spending in Kansas: “In other words, nearly one in every four dollars in the Kansas economy came from federal spending — big-ticket items such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, agricultural supports and roads, plus an array of smaller tickets.”
Consider farm spending. According to my research, in 2009 the first district in Kansas received $350 million in agricultural subsidies (about $540 per person in the district), ranking third among all Congressional districts. From 1995 to 2009, that district received $8.847 billion in subsidies, ranking second among all Congressional districts and only a scant $3 million behind the top-ranking district.
Will any candidate in the first district pledge to cut farm subsidies?
Social Security and Medicare are two federal programs that have grown rapidly and represent a large portion of federal spending. From the table below, we can see that some Kansas Congressional districts have much higher proportions of their population in the age group that depends on — or at least benefits from — these federal programs.
Population age Percent age District Population 65 and over 65 and over First 648,286 106,283 16.4% Second 695,593 91,427 13.1% Third 745,132 75,290 10.1% Fourth 689,588 87,957 12.8%
In some districts — particularly the largely rural first district — targeting cuts in spending aimed at benefiting older populations is a tough sell. Yet some candidates and activists want to cut this spending. It reminds me of the common criticism of tea party activists, where protestors obviously old enough to be on Medicare carry signs saying “Keep government out of my health care” or something similar.
As Flentje writes in his editorial, candidates propose to cut spending, but give few specific details. Once candidates propose spending cuts in detail, constituencies benefiting from that spending mobilize to oppose the cuts and the candidates.
Although I don’t like to concede this, perhaps a more reasonable goal that might be achievable in the near term is to stop the explosive growth in federal spending. If we can achieve that, we can then look at cuts.
Should Kansas bite hand that feeds it?
By H. Edward Flentje
To spend or not to spend? That is the question today nationally and globally. It is also the issue before members of Congress as they consider whether to extend unemployment benefits, continue higher Medicaid reimbursements or make other adjustments in federal spending.
The instinctive response of most Kansans likely would be an emphatic “Cut spending!” And most candidates on the campaign trail would give a hearty salute.
Such reactions, however, may not reflect an appreciation of the impact of governmental spending on the Kansas economy and, most important, its disproportionate impact on the rural economy of Kansas.