TRENTON, Fla. — Todd Newtown, the clerk of the Circuit Court in this tiny Florida town, is at a bit of a loss as to where he’d like to see the federal government cut spending.
This is the basis of his argument for not being in favour of raising the nation’s debt ceiling — something that economists say would risk a default on U.S. obligations, as well as major economic calamity. The U.S. has avoided that prospect with a deal between Senate leaders on Wednesday.
But when asked, specifically, where the government can cut, Newton is either unprepared or simply doesn’t know.
“We’re spending $US300 or $US500 on hammers,” Newtown said, adding that he believes the U.S. should appoint some sort of independent watchdog to manage cuts.
Newton probably doesn’t know it, but what he’s referring to is almost 20 years in the past — and is owed largely to an accounting quirk, rather than wasteful government spending.
Newtown exemplifies an odd predicament for those who are willing to risk it all, economically, and go to the brink over spending cuts: Where do we trim?
During a recent trip to Florida’s Third Congressional district, which is represented by Rep. Ted Yoho (R), constituents had three main targets. The first was foreign aid, which was by far the most popular response among the dozens of people interviewed during the trip.
Foreign aid makes up less than 1% of a massive $US3 trillion-plus federal budget.
“Doesn’t matter,” said David Biddle, a state committeeman in the Florida GOP. “Stop sending it abroad, and start taking care of our own.”
Biddle doesn’t believe that the U.S. should raise its borrowing limit. He theorizes that there is enough revenue coming in every day that it would force Washington to make tough spending choices on the fly.
What to cut, then? Medicare? Social Security? Those programs won’t be cut and, according to Biddle, anyone who suggests it is employing “scare tactics.”
With Biddle, you start with foreign aid.
Then, “you can cut, you know, federal arts …” Biddle said.
“There are a lot of grants,” added Bob Clemons, a director of finance for the local school board.
“Grants. There’s a lot of grants,” Biddle said.
The two paused for about 10 seconds.
“It’s a big problem,” Clemons said.
“It is. It is,” Biddle said.
This conversation is a microcosm of others in the district. Caroline Vickers, a Trenton resident, thinks the government is giving “too much money to illegal aliens.” At least eight people want to completely gut the welfare system. Nine others want to cut food stamps — some just a trim, others close to fully.
Casey Mitchell, a livestock inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, takes it a step further. He said that the federal government should stop providing disaster aid for natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy. Aid should still be allocated for disasters like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said.
Biddle comes back a little while later after an initial conversation. He says that the government shutdown has helped show that there can be significant cuts in the federal workforce.
“There are no non-essential employees in the private sector,” he said.
Still, the S&P said Wednesday that the government shutdown has taken out $US24 billion from the U.S. economy. And it has cut 0.6% off of yearly fourth quarter GDP growth.
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