BIGELOW: Punting problems to next generation won’t solve fiscal crisis

U.S. economic woes require long-term solutions

If a family that owes $100,000 in debt — while racking up $575 more debt each month — vows to cut their monthly spending rate by only $52, would anyone call that a solution?

In the dragging “fiscal cliff” negotiations, this is what politicians on both sides of the aisle agree is mathematically acceptable on a bigger scale. House Speaker John A. Boehner’s latest proposal includes $1 trillion in new revenue by raising taxes on our nation’s top income earners while trimming a meager $1 trillion in spending over the next 10 years.

This is just typical Washingtonian short-term thinking. The current proposals only make a comically small dent in the growth of spending and punts more than $16 trillion in debt to the next generation of young Americans to fix and pay for down the road.

Both Mr. Boehner and President Obama are unserious about the challenges facing young Americans. Thanks to their politically charged shortsightedness, young people will be the biggest losers in whatever fiscal cliff deal is reached.

Young Americans don’t get it: They won’t have government safety nets and reasonable taxes in the future if we keep the status quo. Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama refuse to address the real spending cuts that we need to reform our nation’s entitlement programs and prevent America from going bankrupt in the near future.

Social Security and Medicare are the two largest drivers of our national debt, representing 36 percent of a rapidly expanding annual spending budget. Accounting for their current growth projections, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are expected to devour all of our nation’s tax revenues by 2045. Social Security already ran deficits of nearly $50 billion in the past two years and is expected to average $66 billion in annual deficits over the next six years.

That isn’t the worst of it. The federal government doesn’t account for the unfunded liabilities — the future promised payments not covered by current revenues or assets — in our nation’s projections and annual reports. We owe an estimated $20.5 trillion in future Social Security benefits and $42.8 trillion for Medicare payments. In fact, total unfunded liabilities in America are estimated to be anywhere between $86 trillion and $100 trillion.

Many Americans — especially young Americans — look at these numbers and nothing resonates. It’s almost impossible to comprehend. What do these numbers really mean for America’s future? Under the current system, today’s youth will pay a majority of their future income in taxes just to fund entitlement programs alone. There will be no money left for national defense, new roads and bridges, or even salaries for elected leaders.

Young Americans won’t be able to leave a decent inheritance for their children or grandchildren because high death taxes will go toward paying off the national debt bequeathed by current political leaders. The only inheritance that will be passed on to future generations will be debt. The “American Dream” will cease to exist.

Today’s youth face a future of fiscal enslavement because of the irresponsibility taking place in Washington today. We’re spending $1 trillion more per year than we were just five years ago, and the $1 trillion in proposed spending cuts over the next 10 years will only cut our current deficit by 10 percent. These aren’t real cuts; they are only cuts in the growth of spending.

Serious plans, while rare, do exist. The best plans balance the budget in five years, but to Washington demagogues — who only think as far ahead as the next election — these plans are deemed “radical.” Only in Washington is balancing the budget considered radical, but for young Americans to have a prosperous future, it must be done.

We can’t wait for a conservative president for serious reform. Mr. Boehner must use his leverage — especially with the debt ceiling — to create a national debate about fixing these problems. If he won’t do it, other young leaders need to step up to the task.

It’s hard to be hopeful when Washington only focuses on the next deadline. There needs to be a serious shift in the way politicians view the future of this country. Until then, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever stop the coming debt crisis from devouring the future.

Celia Bigelow, 22, is the campus director for American Majority Action.

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