Fiscal conservatives unwittingly sabotage themselves by invoking “the children” when explaining the dangers of America’s ballooning national debt. They should spend lots more time discussing how federal red ink harms adults today.
Tying debt reduction to parenting causes two problems: First, if America’s children will pay off the national debt, why sweat it now? Washington’s spendaholics will embrace any available excuse to keep federal spending grinding onward. If the debt will vex the kids, it clearly needs no attention for another decade, maybe two. So until then, let’s party.
Second, millions of American adults lack children. Some have not had them. Others don’t want them. While speeches about “the children” may play moms and dads like fiddles, they barely pluck the heartstrings of the childless.
Free marketeers, thus, should add a badly needed note of urgency to their overtures on the national debt. Current and previous federal borrowing hurts American adults - and this entire economy - right now, well before little Johnny and Sally turn 21, find jobs and start signing the tab for Washington’s endless fiscal happy hour. For now, the good times are rolling.
After the Bush administration’s fiscal bacchanal, the gross national debt was $10.6 trillion when President Obama took office. Today, that figure is $15.4 trillion - and climbing. It likely will crash through today’s $16.4 trillion debt ceiling in mid-October, weeks before the November elections. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the debt will total $21.7 trillion in 2022.
Servicing this debt will be a massive national enterprise. Net interest payments will soar from $224 billion to $624 billion in 2022 alone. Over the next 10 years, the CBO projects, interest to bondholders will cost $4.25 trillion. This is nearly double the expected budget for Obamacare.
“This debt cloud over our economy is depressing growth right now,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Senate Budget Committee’s top Republican. Mr. Sessions cites economists Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland and Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard. They determined that advanced nations with debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratios above 90 percent experience 1 percent to 2 percent lower median growth rates. Slower growth means fewer jobs, lower incomes and grimmer people. America’s debt-to-GDP ratio equals 105 percent today, well within that danger zone. Mr. Obama’s budget keeps that figure above 102 percent through 2022.
“The nation’s debt is leading to higher costs for businesses and American households to obtain long-term credit,” Mr. Sessions’ budget analysts reported in May. “Longer-term interest rates would be even lower today, and more stimulating of economic activity, if today’s deficit and government debt were lower.”
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke also sees the national debt menacing today’s adults. “Expectations of large and increasing deficits in the future could inhibit current household and business spending,” he said in October 2010, “for example, by reducing confidence in the longer-term prospects for the economy or by increasing uncertainty about future tax burdens and government spending - and thus restrain the recovery.”
Washington will not get serious about any of this until Democrats grow up.
Mr. Obama’s deficit projections exceed $575 billion every year through 2022. Even after proposing a $1.9 trillion tax hike, he never comes close to balancing the budget.
When House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, asked Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner how he would cure this debt headache, Mr. Geithner sniffed: “We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is we don’t like yours.”
House Republicans last year passed Mr. Ryan’s sober, debt-curbing budget. The Democratic Senate then sandbagged it.
As for 2012, “We don’t need to bring a budget to the floor this year,” declared Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. Why start now? In serial violation of the Congressional Budget Act, the Democratic Senate last passed a budget on April 29, 2009.
Debt-weary Americans who worry about “the children” should start fretting about Washington’s infantile Democrats.