It’s like Biblical Egypt all over again, complete with the plague of the frogs, only this time — the frogs are Us. The United States of America is in dire straits, the most dire in my lifetime. Years of party politics and pandering to special interests has left our country afloat on a sea of rising problems. Pick your issue, be it banks who rob us, insurance companies who only insure for their profits, needless wars that kill our young and stuff the pockets of the defense industry, jobs, energy, taxes, it doesn’t matter; rudderless and without a destination, America continues to sail on troubled waters. The issues are many, the stakes historical, the arguments heated near a boil, and still too many Americans don’t fully comprehend that gravity of the situation — it truly is a slow burn, and We the People ARE the frogs in the kettle.
Witness the raging debate over healthcare. Are we any better off now that the “reform” bill has passed? Are we any worse? Democrats are optimistic that we’ve moved forward on the need to provide care for more Americans, and that we’ve done so in a fiscally responsible way. Republicans insists that the bill was forced down the people’s throat; that it’s a drastic move toward socialism that will surely trigger Armageddon. Who’s correct? Left? Right?
The truth that America can’t seem to handle is that they’re both right . . . and they’re both wrong. This is a dibilitating core problem in American politics. Our present political system functions more and more like a sporting event. Sides are chosen, and it’s winner take all. This is great for entertainment value, but it totally sucks for addressing the complex issues that face our nation. Our democracy has become completely dysfunctional.
The healthcare legislation is just one example; one for which I’ve already shared my opinion. I sincerely wish it was the only example, but that’s far from the case. The process witnessed during the healthcare debate is simply the latest instance of partisan bickering and diametric opposition to exemplify our broken government. This slam dance is now standard operating procedure, and it guarantees that the real issues will never be addressed.
There is no doubt that this dynamic has crippled our democracy’s ability to serve the needs of the people. But of even greater concern is the irresponsible outcome insured by the marriage of the two warring factions. The net result of the Democrat push for increased social benefits, coupled with the Republican mantra of tax reduction, not only ensures that effective solutions are never instituted, but also serves to keep the public’s attention trained on the diversion and away from the elephant in the room.
This is nothing new for Washington politics, but the gravity of the consequences hits new levels with every passing day. The “more services/less revenue” tango has left America in denial. Little conversation occurs regarding our economic elephant. This Godzilla like beast to which I refer is the deep dark financial hole our illustrious leaders so zealously feed — a hole totaling some $56 trillion dollars as of September 30, 2008, and growing.
That’s right, $56 trillion, with a “T.” That’s nearly a half million dollars for every American household. In the words of David M. Walker, former Comptroller General of the U.S., this is like having, “a huge second or possibly third mortgage, amounting to almost ten times your annual household income.” For the moment, we do still have the World’s largest economy, but even our $14 trillion GDP pales when compared to this mounting debt and liabilities. And when you consider that the budget deficit was $1.42 trillion for fiscal 2009, a full 9.9 percent of that GDP, you get a feel for how we’re feeding our giant reptile.
Recent bailouts and the new healthcare legislation certainly add to the problem, but they alone are not the culprits. The real core issue is complete fiscal irresponsibility on the part of conservatives and liberals alike, and the bottom line is that neither side has the courage to face the music. Though, I guess this is somewhat understandable, since the song they need to play is a dirge, and the lyrics should go something like, “We’re so sorry we sold you down the river for our own personal gain.”
Yes, my fellow Americans, regardless of political affiliations, we’ve all been sold a bad bill of goods. It’s time to stop playing like ostriches, pull our heads out of the sand and take a serious look at our financial mess. Like teenagers with a new credit card, our elected officials have strapped us with a federal debt now over $12 trillion dollars, and that’s not the worst of it. It’s actually more like the tip of the iceberg. The plot sickens much further when you take a look at our unfunded obligations.
As of September 30, 2008, our unfunded obligations, consisting of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security totaled nearly $43 trillion. And since the Congress refuses to address the issue and instead continues to add to the balance, the $56 trillion hole (federal debt plus unfunded obligations) for 2008 is expected to bulge to $63 trillion for 2009.
Just in case these numbers don’t grab your attention, you might want to consider that when George W. Bush took office, the hole was a comparatively manageable $20 trillion. During his two terms as President, we had three tax cuts, started two wars, bolstered homeland security and added an extremely expensive prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The combined result of this wisdom enlarged the hole by 176 percent to the $56 trillion number that President Obama stepped into. This is what’s commonly referred to as a snowball effect, and the really scary part is that it’s just getting going.
Indeed, if left unaddressed, the GAO (Government Accountability Office) forecasts that within the next 12 years, interest payments on the federal debt will become the single largest line item in the federal budget. If left until 2040, all federal revenues would cover only the payment of said interest and Medicare/Medicaid. We’d have nothing left for defense, much less Social Security or anything else. Put another way, in order to cover the bills in 2030, our average federal tax rate of 21 percent will have to swell to as much as 45 percent. By 2040, it would be 53 percent, and that’s only the federal slice.
Needless to say, this paints a sorry picture for all of us, but left unchecked it could prove devastating to our children and grand children. All Americans should be absolutely ashamed that we’ve allowed the situation to grow so very bleak. Everybody knows that we’ve been building a house of cards, that you can’t continually reduce federal revenues (cut taxes) and at the same time increase spending (wars and services) and expect things to balance. Our elected official’s intentional obfuscation of the facts may have clouded issues, but in the end, it’s really every American who’s responsible. We’ve spent 30 years in denial and it’s high time to stand straight and face the facts.
The facts are that, contrary to common assertions, we can’t grow or inflate our way out of this big ugly. Yet, unless we want to just subscribe to the contemporary American IBG (I’ll Be Gone) ethic, we need to do our best to address the issues and to do so with some haste. Things will only get worse until we do.
Resolution obviously won’t be easy, but the good news is that we can make it happen, and we’ll all be stronger for the wear. Real patriots will take this challenge in the spirit that created our great nation. They will demand that our politicians immediately stop the destructive rhetoric, cease their incessant partisan bickering, and open a meaningful dialog to address this real and pertinent issue. And they will also accept that the way out will require that we all make sacrifices.
Thankfully, I’m not a politician, and I don’t have to worry about getting reelected, so I can tell it like it is. The fact is that big holes need big shovels, and we’ve done a lot of digging. Our way out is going to be painful. So conservatives, suck it up, because we’re going to need to raise taxes, and liberals, bite your tongues, because social programs will have to see cuts. Social Security and Medicare have to be reformed and the defense budget will need a serious overhaul. It’s time for transformational change, change that will require nonpartisan solutions. I’m sure that recovery will provide plenty to piss off every American, but the only alternative to some scorched buttocks is to just sit in the kettle and be cooked. You’ll have to make your choice. I’ve already made mine.