The National Debt is Today's Problem--Not the Future's

The only thing Washington appears committed to is digging a deeper hole.

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By Brandon Greife, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

They’ve stolen my sales pitch! Worries about the impact of the national debt and deficit have traditionally been framed in terms of future generations. For instance, Barack Obama recently said,

We have an obligation to future generations to address our long-term, structural deficits, which threaten to hobble our economy and leave our children and grandchildren with a mountain of debt.

As a College Republican, that made my spiel easy. Everyone, regardless of political persuasion, seemed to understand that today’s spending was going to have dire impacts on our future. The government’s recent string of poor fiscal decisions has moved up the timetable.

As David Einhorn wrote in today’s New York Times,

Are you worried that we are passing our debt on to future generations? Well, you need not worry.

Before this recession it appeared that absent action, the government’s long-term commitments would become a problem in a few decades. I believe the government response to the recession has created budgetary stress sufficient to bring about the crisis much sooner. Our generation--not our grandchildren’s--will have to deal with the consequences.

I’ve lost my niche. But Democrats stand to lose much more in November unless they can get our fiscal house in order.

Oddly they don’t seem to be taking any steps to do that. The federal government’s 2011 budget is awash in record levels of red ink. Rather than own up to that uncomfortable reality Democrats, as Lisa Mascaro of the Los Angeles Times writes, “may resolve the politically thorny situation by simply refusing to pass a budget resolution this year.” Shying away from the vote doesn’t change much, but it does create a powerful symbol that the government is not committed to solving this problem.

The only thing Washington appears committed to is digging a deeper hole. Congressional Democrats hoped to pass a Tax Extenders package this week that included $174 billion in new spending and would add $134 billion to the deficit. Unsurprisingly, the rank-and-file bristled at the price tag. What is surprising is that the response was so obviously half-hearted. Under an agreement made Wednesday the cost of the package dropped to a still-staggering $145 billion while adding $95 billion to the deficit.

Moreover, the only way they accomplished these cuts was by shortening the length of time unemployment benefits would be extended and putting off the “doc fix” for two years rather than four. None of that is true savings. It’s merely kicking the can down the road. But as President-elect Barack Obama said in 2009,

We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further. We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else’s.

The hard decisions will have to be made now. We are beyond the point of speaking about the debt’s impact on children and grandchildren. I’ve accepted that my clear-cut sales pitch is gone. Washington must accept that they need to do something about it.

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