The household analogy seems to hit home when talking about government budgets, so imagine this scenario: In seven years, the interest payment on your credit cards will exceed your monthly mortgage, which is currently your largest bill. Do you:
A) Drop down to a cheaper cable TV package?
B) Bring your lunch to work?
C) Bring in less money?
D) Dissemble about the debt?
E) Declare bankruptcy?
F) Focus most cuts on larger items and bring in more money?
While many households would choose bankruptcy, the federal government can’t really do that. As House Speaker John Boehner has noted, this step would be ruinous to the U.S. and world economies. The Obama administration concurs.
But that is no excuse for both leaders to pursue options A, B, C and D, when the correct answer is F.
The recently released spending plan from Republicans and the president’s new budget proposal aim spending cuts at a small portion of the budget, leaving the biggest items – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense – largely untouched. In addition, both sides continue to extend some or all of the temporary tax cuts, which will bring in less revenue. As a result, the nation’s debt will grow by as much as $13 trillion over the next decade.
These are not serious blueprints, and both sides know it.
The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan deficit reduction group, notes that interest costs for servicing the debt could exceed Medicare costs as soon as 2018 under Obama’s plan. It has panned the House Republicans for a lack of seriousness, too.
While politicians pat themselves on the back for their puny efforts, the bills mount. Sadly, the prospect of passing this debt along to their children does not spur them to seek bipartisan solutions. The Obama administration noted early last year that it was awaiting the findings of a bipartisan deficit panel before unveiling a serious proposal. Instead, the administration has held back support for the commission.
The good news is that a small group of senators from both parties, including U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, are looking at turning some of those recommendations into policy proposals, which offers a glimmer of hope that reality will enter the discussion.
But for the most part, it’s the same game of passing off molehill solutions as mountains. Our leaders talk about the long-term deficit, but their actions point to short-term power plays. Each side is fearful that if they push for cuts in popular entitlement and defense programs or touch taxes, their advocacy will become the subject of 2012 campaign ads about starving the elderly or wounding the troops or pilfering hard-earned money.
When that election is completed, the cycle begins anew, with an eye toward 2014.
This is a problem that demands leadership from people who care more about the country’s future than their party’s short-term fortunes. The whole point of gaining office is public service, not perpetuating a ruinous game of budgetary chicken.
Our nation’s leaders need to treat us like grown-ups. We can handle the truth. We can’t afford the deception.