By Todd Devlin
Is it time to truly define our nation's debt? What do you think our national debt is? Is it $11 or $12 Trillion?
Candidates for federal office have learned to anticipate the never-ending question: "How do you plan to pay for it?" After providing the public or press with some basic explanation, the press and/or public do not have the knowledge at hand to take the exchange of questions and answers to the next level.
As the economy has worsened, the quality of the discussion between candidates and the press over economic policy has improved somewhat. The media now weighs candidates' plans in terms of whether they will increase or ease the pressure on us and on our government.
This is not enough. Given our current and projected financial condition, the nation's fiscal debate must be entirely reframed. It is no longer enough for a candidate to simply offer a proposal and discuss how he or she plans to pay for it.
The national debt has surpassed $12 trillion of externally borrowed dollars from both domestic and foreign lenders. The national debt is a problem, but not the big problem. The big problem is the “real national debt”, which includes current liabilities and unfunded promises for entitlement programs. That number is staggering at $56 TRILLION. The federal government has borrowed internally for years against surplus programs such as Social Security and Medicare to fund other departments, programs, and entitlements. That has never been shown on the “books” as part of the national debt. Our federal government in the past has stated they have balanced budgets, but only with internal borrowing and transfers of money from one line item to another. That $56 trillion (with a T) is $184,000 for each and every one of us! It includes $41 trillion in Social Security and Medicare deficits alone.
Rising health care, fuel, feed, fertilizer, and energy costs are outpacing overall economic and income growth. Without dramatic and fundamental reforms this will bankrupt us and our country. Based on our current entitlement, program, and department funding, federal taxes would have to more than double over the next few decades in order for the federal government to pay its bills and deliver on its promises without borrowing more money. And that is not considering paying any of the existing debt! There are only so much tax dollars to go around because of thresholds. Increase in federal taxes means more pressure at the local level to reduce taxes. Which in turn, will reduce local services.
So, when the next round of politicians run for federal office, we have to be prepared to ask the tough questions and be allowed follow up. Below are some examples of what we maybe should be asking.
Q. Do you know what the national debt really is when you consider our current liabilities and promises? Answer is: $56 Trillion
Q. How am I going to pay my $184,000 share of the debt responsibility …. Or even start to?
Q. Do you believe that the nation will be able to grow its way out of the economic challenges it faces, without requiring additional spending cuts and/or tax increases beyond those you're already proposing? If not, what is your proposed approach for addressing the federal government's $56 Trillion financial hole?
Q. We are a very rich natural resource country of which the federal government has it’s fair share of rights. Should we accelerate extraction of those natural resources to assist in debt recovery?
Q. Is it time for a non-partisan Federal Debt Review Commission study and report on our national debt?
Democracy by representation is a great government. But, it needs never-ending oversight to function properly or it becomes corrupt. That includes local governments. Our federal government is not functioning properly and it is the American citizens’ fault. Apathy is a terrible thing and we are all guilty and we must correct that. Remember that the history of Rome was about 1200 plus years of which they were the ultimate power of the known world for about 400 years. The United States has been in existence for just over 200 years and has been a supreme power for only 75 years. At this rate, we won’t even make the history books unless it is under tha category of “failed systems of government”.
I challenge each and everyone of you to go to Peter G. Peterson Foundation Web site. That address is http://www.pgpf.org/
and view the 30-minute video called IOUSA. It is done by the former head accountant for the United States for 12 years, David Walker. Take some quiet time and watch it. Watch it with your family. But, by all means … watch it. Then you will understand what our national debt really is.
NOTE: Todd Devlin is a commissioner for Prairie County.
Published Dec. 16, 2009