In 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.