Flashback: In November 2011, a special “Super Committee” established by Congress to develop a 10-year deficit reduction plan announced it was disbanding, having failed to agree on a workable solution to the nation’s spending woes.
Flashback: Just one year earlier, in December 2010, a blue-ribbon commission of congressional leaders and budget thinkers, appointed by President Barack Obama to develop a long-term fiscal sustainability plan, issued its own final proposal. Their plan was dead on arrival—the commission couldn’t even garner enough votes to approve its own recommendations.
See a pattern here? Despite Washington’s supposed efforts to rein in spending, pushing responsibility to committees and commissions has failed repeatedly. The lesson is clear: The government’s spending addiction, which has saddled us with endless deficit spending and a skyrocketing $16 trillion debt, will only be addressed through leadership from the president.
So in the final days of the 2012 presidential campaign, pay close attention to the “closing arguments” that Mr. Obama and his Republican challenger, Gov. Mitt Romney, present when talking about spending. Last month, Public Notice argued that the candidate who makes the most convincing pitch on how to restrain federal spending and get the debt under control will have an advantage. According to our polling, American voters are increasingly concerned about the historically high levels of government outlays, as well as the effectiveness of that spending.
In September, we polled Americans to find out what they think about federal spending; the results were surprising. Fully 74 percent—nearly three-fourths of respondents—said that government spending has not helped the economy; more than half (52 percent) said that excessive government spending has actually hurt the economy.
From there, the responses get even more interesting. When asked how government spending affects their personal situations, a remarkable 86 percent of Americans say that government spending has not helped them. That’s a decisive rebuke to those who claim that additional stimulus spending (or, as it’s misleadingly termed, “investment”) is needed to kick-start the long-delayed economic recovery.
At this point, people simply have no remaining confidence in the magical healing powers of greater and greater spending. Why? Because Americans are attuned to the grim facts of high government spending. They understand that a $16 trillion debt only weighs down the entire economy. They recognize that massive spending and debt only result in a weaker position for the United States on the world stage, undermining our long-term national security and our global reputation.
Closer to home, every taxpayer understands that high levels of spending and debt mean they’ll be paying a higher tax bill in the years to come. They see that they’re paying more for staples like groceries and gas, and they understand that their future only holds higher prices and smaller paychecks.
The costs of runaway spending and massive debt are clear. Americans look at the budget profligacy of the last decade, and particularly the last four years, and realize that things can’t go on this way.
With the media’s obsessive focus on the campaign horse race, trivial gaffes and daily distractions, it might be easy to conclude there are no issues that matter in this year’s race. But nothing could be further from the truth. Spending and debt, and their negative impact on the economy, are at the top of voters’ minds—even if our leaders in Washington have been thus far unwilling to contend with that reality.
On the spending question, Nov. 6 won’t be the end of the discussion; it will be the start of a whole new conversation. Whichever candidate emerges as the victor on Nov. 6, he’ll need to be prepared to work with Congress to solve the persistent problem of runaway government spending, in order to restore the U.S. economy to a state of recovery and health. It’s smart for candidates to be talking right now about how they’re going to achieve that goal.
Gretchen Hamel is Executive Director of Public Notice.