US Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, made a visit to southern Oklahoma Friday, taking a few moments from his meet and greet tour of Ardmore’s Depot District to reignite debate around a topic that first propelled him into office in 2011.
Lankford — who annually publishes Federal Fumbles highlighting areas of government spending he considers wasteful or unnecessary — has quietly continued his crusade against deficit spending long after it’s fallen off of the radar of the national media and most of his colleagues in Washington, D.C.
"My concern is, right now, is that the economy is so good people have stopped talking about debt and deficits," Lankford said. "Last year, we did the change in tax policy, from 2017, (it) has led to the highest levels of revenue we've ever had. Last year, the revenues in the treasury were the highest we’ve ever had. Revenues have continued to be able to go up to the treasury, but spending has continued to accelerate as well."
According to theballance.com, US tax revenues have climbed significantly in recent years, eclipsing the pre-recession numbers. Revenues jumped from 2014 to 2015 from $3.02 trillion to $3.25 in 2015, then chugged along through 2018 making incremental increases before jumping again in 2019 from $3.33 trillion to an estimated $3.38 to 3.44 trillion.
"No one wants to pay attention to it (deficit spending) because we have a historically low unemployment rate. The average take home pay for people around the country has gone up in the last couple of years," Lankford said. "We have 1.5 million more openings in America than what we actually have people looking for jobs."
According to the New York Times, the US added another 266,000 jobs in November, bringing the national unemployment rate to 3.5 percent, the 21st consecutive month of 4 percent or lower unemployment.
Lankford said the historic economic conditions currently existing in the country have lulled decision makers into a false sense of security.
"Everyone thinks that everything is going fine, ‘why do we have to worry about debt and deficit?" Lankford said. "I disagree. It’s a ticking time bomb and no one knows what day that is when it goes off."
Much like recent conditions in the State of Oklahoma, Lankford said the disconnect between deficit spending and revenue collections may soon come back to bite the American taxpayer.
"We are on target right now for $33 trillion (deficit)," Lankford said. "This year’s interest payments, just the interest payments, were $400 billion. That’s money that’s just out the door. It’s not being used for infrastructure, transportation, national defense or anything else."
Lankford said his concerns about long-term deficit spending should be shared by anyone with long-term interests in the success of America.
"I’m not trying to be confrontational, I’m trying to start a conversation," Lankford said. "But right now, no one wants to have this conversation."
Lankford said that despite increases in revenues, discretionary spending has remained flat, while mandatory spending on programs like Social Security, Medicaid and interest continues to be the primary driver in deficit spending, which has only been exacerbated by the increasing rate of retirements and deficit spending.
"It’s the mandatory side that there has been no adjustment to and no one wants to take the hard vote to try to resolve that," Lankford said. "And the interest continues to accelerate. Our interest a few years ago was $200 billion now it’s about $420 billion."
Lankford said that continuing to ignore the issues could have devastating consequences somewhere down the road and much like Oklahoma has seen in the last 15 years, those consequences are likely to hit core functions of government the hardest.
"It’s not just one thing, it’s a bunch of things that have to happen at the same time," Lankford said.