Traverse City Record-Eagle


Go ahead, touch it

Troy Keith, The Armchair ConservativeIn a matter of weeks, Congress will be forced to raise the current $14.294 trillion ceiling on our national debt limit for the 10th time since 2001.  We’ve all heard it before.  Despite the repeated promises of the campaigners, the power elite in Washington continue to write checks that our country cannot cash.

As the arbitrary limit approaches we’ll be treated to a flurry of partisan posturing and grand pontification from both parties.  Extra helpings of blame will be passed around followed by the certain clamor of alarm bells signaling a pending catastrophe if we do not act immediately.  The media will join the chorus warning of a world without police officers in which the elderly are dying in the streets from starvation, and in the end, our national credit card will be reissued with a new limit.

For those with short memories, let’s remember Senator Obama’s thoughts (emphasis mine) on raising the debt limit in 2006:

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure.  It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills.

So that’s about it.  Put the script in the can but keep it handy for the next time.  The pattern has been repeated for decades but perhaps this time we’re dealing with more than the typical political rhetoric of previous years.  The overwhelming Republican sweep in November, fostered greatly by an awakening of conservative Tea Party activists across the country has introduced a new dynamic into the old routine.  People are actually paying attention and they’ve found a collective voice that reaches deep into marble halls of Congress.  A voice that first rattles the walls with shouts of “wake up!” and then seductively whispers “election” into the ears of our covetous leaders.

Recently as many as 87 House Republicans have promised to constrain government borrowing and freeze the debt limit at $14.3 trillion.  The Republican Study Committee (RSC) has introduced a bill entitled the Full Faith and Credit Act which requires that the Treasury pay interest and principal on public debts before making any other payments.  The RSC claims this would allow the Treasury Department to avoid default without raising our current borrowing limit.

Debate rages as  Treasury Secretary Geithner warns of “catastrophic economic consequences” should Congress fail to raise the current debt ceiling and default on its obligations.  RSC Chairman Jim Jordan calls Geithner’s warning a “pitiful scare tactic.”

This is government mismanagement at its worst. Secretary Geithner knows full well that he has the authority to prioritize federal spending so that default is not an option, This bill will take Secretary Geithner’s disastrous scenario completely off the table.

Regardless of the outcome of this particular controversy, Americans know that much remains to be done as those suffering through the agonizingly long SOTU address last month can  attest to.  Despite growing national concern over our precariously balanced sheet, the President spoke consistently of new spending (investments) for nearly 35 minutes before giving an obligatory nod to budget cuts and fiscal responsibility.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

That’s all well and good, but it’s a band-aid solution when our country’s hemorrhaging requires a  tourniquet to stop the current flow of runaway spending.  To freeze at the currently inflated level does little to reign in our excessive expenditures.  With our national debt at $14.1 trillion and a deficit of more than $1.3 trillion, some might say Mr. Obama’s token proposal is akin to bringing a scalpel to an ax fight.

Non-security discretionary spending currently represents only about 12% of federal spending.  The President’s proposed $40 billion per year savings ($400 billion over 10 years) amounts to 1% of the government’s annual budget and won’t even begin to address our current predicament.

According to CNN Money, Social Security, interest on our national debt, Medicare and Medicaid currently account for 76 cents of every dollar spent by our government.  Projections suggest that by 2020, the combined total could be as high as 92 cents.

We can all agree that this is unsustainable, but what are we to do?  For years, our political leaders have danced around the subject of entitlement spending with the agility of Michael Jackson on a hot tin roof but the day of reckoning is upon us.

President Bush was eviscerated by the media for proposing a voluntary 4% privatization of social security during his first term in office but even that first tentative step would have offered little in terms of tangible solutions.  If nothing else, it might have breached the walls of the impenetrable entitlement fortress and opened the gates to further discussion.



Senator Rand Paul of KY. has proposed some comprehensive solutions and promises to tackle the entitlement situation in the coming weeks, but more needs to be done.  Whether Congressional leaders will embrace this dialogue and work together to solve the serious issues facing our country remains to be seen.

Without meaningful conversation and dedicated action, the only real change we’re likely to find in the years ahead will be that left in our pockets.  We’ve done this to ourselves as we pushed the difficult decisions to the future and continually chose sitcoms over solutions.  Worse yet, we’ve allowed ourselves to be lulled into complacency by the repeated assurances of those in power that America was too great to fail.

Things will get worse before they’re better.  Tightening Uncle Sam’s belt will be even more painful than cinching our own but millions of families make these difficult decisions every day and it’s time we demanded the same basic common sense and fiscal restraint from our leaders.

Everyone will suffer and no one plan will appease the partisans as we confront a wide spectrum of issues ranging from national defense to the funding of the arts.  As to the infamous 3rd rail of politics, we need to accept the writing on the wall and come up with proactive solutions to the thorny rose of entitlements that has escaped the confines of our government garden.  To Rand Paul I say, go ahead and touch it, I dare you.

  • Bob

    Hello TK

    Good to see you back. Another wonderful post chock full O numbers and graphics as per usual.

    I must confess I see this number and yawn (ya its big, but the Geithner theatrics bore me). He can do the Chicken Little routine all he wants but we/the world have been down this road before. I look at the real estate bubble crash, the population demographics, and the stock market and I fear we are heading for where Japan is, but without Japan’s cohesive cultural demographics. I think the Euro more likely to collapse than the Dollar.

    List of National Debt by Country, Public Debt as a % of GDP from 2009 est.

    It is not the number on its own that bothers me. It is all the causes of the number. If we had the same number but it was all capital improvements I would cheer the number. Had we thrown all the blood and treasure since 9/11 into just Stomping the Taliban and al-Qaeda with no pretensions of rebuilding and then used the rest to develop sources of domestic energy (build nuke plants, we could we have bought 2 or more per state if we had treated them as part of a 9/11 response). Then follow that up with bringing our sons home from the deserts first, followed by Asia, and then Europe too if they will not provide proper welcome and help to fund the cost of the defense we provide.

    Buchanan is right they don’t hate us for our freedoms, though they don’t like those either. They hate us because we are there. If we must stay in the empire game we should at least learn to do it competently through puppets rather than with our own blood. I would prefer that we get out of the empire business and return to the Republic instead.

    On the domestic entitlements I have a few thoughts. For Social Security and Medicare we need to move the numbers to where all can see them and acknowledge them for what they are spending out of current revenue. Move it all to wages and then take it all back as income tax. It never was insurance and everyone with an IQ high enough to understand basic math has known this from the start. The pretense that there is a paid in fund lets too many avoid thinking it through and feel that they are only demanding their fair due. I think this change would be the best first step to putting this on a rational basis. Then we need to means test it all with 0 to all above 115% of the median family/individual income and some sliding scale on down to 85% of the median family/individual at which point one would receive whatever number we collectively determine is the maximum benefit. However no one not confined to a hospital bed, or disabled beyond ability to do anything gets a cent from it without putting in at least 720 hours a year of effort to a charity or necessary government function. Adjust the numbers as you see fit all of that will take time.

    Much in the same way I would like to end the accounting fiction that Government employees pay taxes to the level of government they are employed by (federal, State, local). When I hear some public worker spout off “we pay taxes too” it makes me want to laugh in their face. Just make a onetime correction to their wages to adjust for it, and we start saving from day one just in all the tax returns the IRS no longer has to process, and more importantly we can all more easily see the cost of government that rides us.

    Well I have procrastinated the work I realy should be doing enough for today so I guess I should end my rant now.

    • Troy Keith

      I agree with just about everything you’ve said Bob but I think we’d have to take it even further to initiate any real change. Bringing our boys back home would be first and foremost in my mind. Ending this empire building nonsense would save hundreds of billions although I still think much of the world will continue to hate us for their own reasons – justified or not. In that scenario I’d also want to see the role of the CIA and overseas special-ops greatly expanded but I’d think we’d be equally secure with the increased intel and enhanced surgical-strike capabilities in place (a chance for Obama to wield that scalpel again). I’m sure the hawks would argue about that. Aside from several WWIII scenarios waiting in the wings, I’d think our greatest threats are the sleeper cells simmering in the heartland of the U.S. at this point.

      We need to close the border and stop the torrent of crime flowing into the country as well as the flood of resources expended on the care and maintenance of the illegal population. Set up border hospitals or bring in mercy ships instead of pushing them through our emergency rooms.

      In theory, I’m with the “end the fed” crowd although I’d be happy with an audit to start. We can’t even begin to realize what the Reserve’s contributions to this mess are until we can get a peek at the books.

      We’ve had decades of talk about all this gov’t waste, but what’s being done about it? How ’bout eliminating Amtrak and cutting the DOE down to 3 guys in windowless basement office? Dept of Agriculture, DOD? Maybe it’s time to end that pesky war on drugs also. Obviously Obamacare needs to go but we should be able to easily provide care for our poorest citizens if we can get a handle on this spending and begin to grow the economy again. Despite all of the previous talk, very little has been done to limit the waste and abuse within the current health care system. Maybe we should clean that up first so we know what we’re actually looking at.

      The IRS should go away IMHO, replaced with a fair tax and maybe a temporary flat tax of 3-5% going towards the revamping of social security – of course there are no temporary taxes these days. Besides, who are we kidding here?

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