Sunday, January 30, 2011

The only solution to the debt

During his State of the Union address last week President Obama called for a five-year freeze of non-security discretionary spending in the federal budget. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress proposed that spending be returned to 2008 levels. It's possible that one of those plans will be enacted, or something similar, but it's also possible that the two parties won't come to an agreement on the matter. What is certainly true is that either move would have, at best, a tiny effect on the country's incomprehensible $14 trillion national debt. In fact, despite the alarm bells being struck by Democrats and Republicans alike, no one appears anywhere near ready to take action that will actually begin to reduce the ocean of red ink the US finds itself in.

Every day on TV and in print elected officials bemoan the unfair burden that is being handed down to our children and our children's children, but the reality is that no one is ever going to make cuts and adjustments in the budget of the magnitude that would make meaningful reductions in the debt. No one. Ever. Not now, not soon, never. Neither party possesses the political courage to do what really has to be done: decrease defense spending and reform Social Security and Medicare. The non-security discretionary spending that the US government does, while the target for symbolic cuts, is not the problem. It is the areas that both sides are leery of confronting that are the problem.

So let's be honest, then. If we really want to get our financial house in order, if we really want to spare future generations from paying for our spending, then there is only one logical and effective thing to do: raise taxes. As I say, drastic decreases in spending are never going to happen, so the US government must increase tax revenues. It's got to happen at some point and, therefore, if we refuse to do it now we really are passing on the costs of today to our children.

Let me say this plainly: If we accept that major cuts in entitlement programs and defense spending are not going to happen (whether you are for or against them) -- and, based on everything we know about how Washington works THEY ARE NOT -- then those of us who do not advocate for tax increases are accepting that we will hand off a debt of some $15 trillion or $20 trillion to the next generation. I'm tired of hearing about the unfair burden we are passing on. Let's  take the only course open to us and stop the melodramatic whining.

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