Federal debt needs addressed

Published 12:01 am Friday, January 22, 2016

Want to silence a presidential candidate? It is remarkably easy, just ask them for their detailed plans to manage the federal debt and deficit.

Republican and Democrats take different approaches to ignoring the rising debt, and the crisis it may foretell. Democrats prefer to talk about expanding government programs while noting that the richest Americans should pay the cost of expanding social programs.

But Democrats virtually ignore the coming conflict with sustaining Medicare and Social Security while dreaming big for what government can accomplish.

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Republicans take the apocalyptic route, generally claiming that Medicare and Social Security cannot survive no matter what we do, some Republicans calling the long established programs Ponzi schemes. Further, Republicans will argue, there is no money for any new government programs because we absolutely, positively, must cut taxes more. And by cutting taxes more they mean mostly cutting taxes on those who pay the most, the wealthiest Americans.

Neither of these political postures will address the serious need for our nation to decide its priorities and plan to manage a future that sustains the programs that Americans want and appreciate.

The Democrats, by ignoring the debt entirely, while advocating the importance of government, are ignoring the core responsibility of government, fiscal sustainability. Protecting Social Security, which allows Americans to secure at least a minimal retirement guarantee, is essential to who we are as a people. Likewise, without Medicare, the costs of healthcare would bankrupt many seniors facing health issues as they age.

Republicans, when they see a deficit, blame the social safety net then demand a tax cut. But the American people do not want tax cuts that jeopardize key social programs like Medicare and Social Security. And, if the debt and deficit truly matter to Republicans, then cutting taxes is exactly the wrong solution to the problem.

Republicans do not like to call their tax cutting “trickle down economics” because trickle down does not work. But they still, when pressed to defend cutting taxes while debt rises, explain that the tax cuts will stimulate the economy so much that federal revenue will increase. As demonstrated by the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 we know this claim to be false. Those tax cuts never stimulated the economy enough to recover the lost tax revenue, and actually did very little to stimulate the economy at all.

So neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are honestly explaining to the American people how they will govern given the serious financial issues that must be confronted.

In truth the underlying issue is what course should America take towards the future? It is the timeless argument of guns or butter. The phrase originated with William Jennings Bryan who resigned as Secretary of State and started a peace movement over his opposition to America’s participation in World War I. It is the question of military spending or social services spending when both cannot continue without change.

And given the U.S. debt and our once again rising deficits as projected by the CBO, there is a certainty that we cannot continue what the most recent two-year budget agreement accomplished; increasing spending while decreasing taxes.

The miracle budget agreement, with support from both parties, actually doubled down on exactly the wrong prescription of increasing spending at a time of deficit and cutting the revenue needed to reduce the deficit.

This is the issue that should drive the conversation towards the 2016 election, but more likely the candidates will talk about who would fight ISIS more aggressively and who will ignore legislating a solution to Immigration longer.

Want to silence a presidential candidate? Ask them their detailed fiscal plan.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.