- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2006

Every American is familiar with the story of the “Boston Tea Party.” In 1773 the British parliament passed the Tea Act, which then inflamed the colonial issue of “taxation without representation.” In response to the “tea tax” dozens of courageous colonists — who called themselves the “Sons of Liberty” — boarded three British ships and dumped 45 tons of tea into the Boston Harbor.

I have come to believe that we need a modern day equivalent of the Boston Tea Party. Here is why I have arrived at this conclusion: Our nation’s current fiscal policies are creating a mountain of debt that our grandchildren will be forced to repay through higher taxes. The unfunded promises we have made to recipients of Social Security and Medicare and other entitlement programs will almost certainly lead to higher taxes on today’s children and those yet to be born. In my view, that amounts to “taxation without representation.”

The British parliament paid no heed to the American colonists because the Americans had no vote or voice in the halls of government. Similarly, today’s Congress seldom considers the long-term consequences of its budget decisions because kids don’t vote.

Part of the problem lies with the current congressional budget process. On Capitol Hill the bulk of time and attention each year is devoted to the annual appropriations bills. While these bills — which fund defense and domestic programs — are important, they constitute only about one-third of all the money spent by the federal government. The other two-thirds of spending goes to so-called “mandatory” programs: interest on the debt and entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Though representing the vast majority of dollars spent every year, these “mandatory” spending programs receive little — if any — debate on Capitol Hill. The expenditures are essentially automatic. That is not right.

Why shouldn’t every dollar of expenditure come under close review every year? More attention must be paid to these mandatory programs because of their long-range costs. Before long, Social Security and Medicare alone will consume virtually all the taxes paid by working Americans. It is not fair to the next generation to saddle them with enormous costs for entitlement programs and leave them no alternative except to reduce spending for other priorities or to pay ever higher taxes.

Unlike our patriot forbears, we do not have to resort to extreme measures. But we do need an uprising of the American public demanding that our elected representatives do their jobs. By e-mail, letters, phone calls or speaking out at town meetings, we must make our voices heard. We must speak out for those who are too young to speak for themselves.

When we speak out, we can specifically ask legislators to join their colleague, Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, in sponsoring legislation to create a bipartisan entitlement commission. Mr. Wolf is a member of the appropriations committee, and understands that entitlement spending deserves closer scrutiny than is provided in the current budget process. He realizes that the difficult decisions required — if entitlement spending is to be brought under control — can only be achieved through a bipartisan effort. He also believes that all options must be on the table. Finally, and most importantly, he sees that as a matter of morality and fairness to future generations.

So, during the coming weeks as legislators wrap up their work in Washington and return home to campaign, speak out for your children and grandchildren. If, after hearing from us, our elected officials refuse to endorse Mr. Wolf’s reasonable approach, then, like the Boston Tea Party, we should throw them overboard this November.

Timothy J. Penny is a former Democratic congressman from Minnesota.

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