The Debt Star We’re Building
“No,” said the Obama Administration.
The cold, curt, cruel answer no doubt stung the tens of thousands of Americans who had petitioned the White House to support their idea for a new and important job-creating federal program. But as far as President Barack Obama is concerned, the federal government shan’t build a Death Star.
So, why not? Paul Shawcross, a budget official, noted the prohibitive cost, estimated at $850,000,000,000,000,000. (I wonder how much the estimate cost.)
“We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it,” Shawcross reminded.
Consider a widely reprinted lesson in accounting offered a little more than a year ago by Laurie Newsom of the Gainesville Tea Party. Newsom suggested that to better understand the government’s spending antics, drop eight zeros from the budget numbers. Newsom cited annual tax revenue of $2,170,000,000,000, a federal budget of $3,820,000,000,000, new debt of $1,650,000,000,000, national debt of $14,271,000,000,000. And “budget cuts” of $38,500,000,000.
Delete eight zeros and pretend that the national government is just one household. Instead of federal revenue of $2.17 trillion, we have one household bringing in $21,700. But in the same year, its residents are spending $38,200 and adding $16,500 to a credit card with an outstanding balance of $142,710. On the other hand, the family has “cut” $385 from its spending.
Sound like a very disciplined effort to get the fiscal house in order?
Things that can’t continue forever, don’t.
Exactly what President Obama warned, back in 2009. “Today I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office.” Adding, “I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay, and that means taking responsibility right now, in this administration, for getting our spending under control.”
Right now! Er, back then. But somehow it didn’t happen.
And isn’t happening today.
The federal government stands $16.4 trillion in debt, three times the debt level inherited by George W. Bush just twelve years ago.
The response? Other than speeches full of bald-faced lies? A Republican House majority, a Democrat-controlled Senate and President Obama spending us deeper into these dangerous red-ink depths by more than a trillion dollars every year.
Speaking of a Debt Star . . . er, Death Star, a year after the commander-in-chief made his since-broken promise, none other than Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plainly said, “Our national debt is our biggest national security threat.”
Not number two or three. Yet, Washington is content to fight a phony war.
The problem is that politicians don’t want to tackle this problem. It isn’t partisan bickering and obstruction that prevent sustainable economic policies. It is, instead, a bipartisan desire to keep the status quo.
After all, in the status quo they have status.
To raise taxes, except on politically vulnerable one- or two-percent segments of the population, would be to risk voter anger and electoral backlash. A tax hike would prove especially dangerous in a fragile economy, risking recession. This, in turn, can lead to voter backlash, which politicians find unhealthy. (Not even to mention that government is too big and bossy. It needs less money, not more.)
To cut spending even a little — as essayed by the relatively tiny sequestration cuts, which aimed to reduce the overall level of spending that somehow managed to still increase — proved unfathomable to both sides at the Washington trough.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans in the Congress — at least, as they are collectively led — nor the administration hunkered down the street, want to cut spending. Their spending equals their power . . . to the penny.
So, the federal government will continue to borrow more to spend more. It will do this even as the people running it admit they are flirting with disaster. Why? Because, far more than eventual national disaster, politicians fear their personal “disaster” if they don’t keep feeding the tiger they are riding.
We aren’t building a Death Star. We are building a Debt Star, which may prove just as deadly to our Republic. [further reading]
January 27, 2013
This column originally appeared at Townhall.com.