As you have probably heard by now, the stakes in November's presidential election could not be higher. Control of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance. Ditto the fate of millions of undocumented immigrants. U.S. foreign policy could be in for its biggest shake-up since the Cold War.
Yet in one crucial respect the election might make no difference at all.
Seventy-five percent of planned federal spending between now and the end of the next two presidential terms is mandatory: Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, plus interest on the national debt, according to Congressional Budget Office forecasts. That money is going out the door no matter who's president.
Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute has come up with an "Index of Fiscal Democracy" to express this vast, automatic commitment of resources, and the preemption of actual political choice it represents. The higher the index, the more possibilities we have for actually governing ourselves.