In the abstract, it plays well to talk about the big deficits. We all agree that the budget needs to be balanced and the national debt needs to be paid down. But we live in the real world. The debt came from somewhere, it exists for a reason, balancing the budgets require some choices to be made, and there is some delicate timing to be determined.
The last time we had
(a) a balanced budget
(b) a budget surplus
(c) payments made to lower the national debt
was on the watch of one William Jefferson Clinton. I didn’t really like Clinton much, and I loved a good Clinton joke. He showed dismally poor judgement fooling around with an intern barely older than his daughter, but when it comes to fiscal discipline, he was the man.
George W. Bush could have acted like a Republican, of the old school. He could have said, wow, we’ve begun to pay down the national debt for the first time since the 1940s, let’s keep it up. Instead, he took the advice that “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” Instead he said “wow, a surplus, let’s give it back to the people.” (If we asked the government to budget like a home-owning family with a mortgage, this is like saving hundreds of dollars on your monthly payment by switching to an INTEREST ONLY “Smart Choice” loan AND taking out a second mortgage to finance a vacation to Hawaii!!!
So, for seven relatively prosperous years, when we should have been saving for a rainy day, or at least paying down our debt load, GWB nearly doubled the size of the debt. He paid for those “tax cuts” by mortgaging our country to the Bank of China.
President Obama took office as the economy crashed, and everyone, including GWB, recognized that we had to do some fast spending, no matter what the impact on the debt, to save the economy. It was perfectly true — we did. IF we had continued paying down the debt during good times, we could better have absorbed the unavoidable deficit spending in bad times. But, because of the incredible immaturity and fiscal profligacy of the Republican years, now we have had to do deficit spending on top of a huge debt.
Obama will have to bring the deficit down. He doesn’t have the option to do it too quickly. That is unfortunate, but nobody has proposed a specific set of either tax increases or program cuts that would do the job. That is because Americans have become used to the illusion that we can have lots of programs AND tax cuts. Its time for a reality check. We need leaders in Washington prepared to tell people, for every “tax cut” they talk about, exactly what the people are going to have to give up in the way of program. We need leaders who are prepared to tell people, for every program, exactly what additional tax revenue will be needed to pay for it — and where it will come from.
Finally, we need voters who won’t turn people out of office if they have the nerve to tell us the truth.