- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Within the next few months, America will reach its credit limit. After blowing through $2.6 trillion in tax dollars, the government will only be able to charge a mere $280 billion extra to future generations - a horrifying prospect that has sent the White House into a panic. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner yesterday urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to restore the president’s ability to spend beyond the nation’s means. If the new Republican House majority concedes on this point, it will have lost the only hope of restoring fiscal sanity.

Less than four years ago, then-Sen. Barack Obama accused President George W. Bush of a “leadership failure” for seeking an identical debt-ceiling increase after adding $3.5 trillion in red ink to the books during five years in office. “That’s trillion with a ‘T’,” Mr. Obama emphasized at the time. Of course, now that he is president, Mr. Obama replaced his fiscal bomb-throwing rhetoric with a spending rate double his predecessor’s. It only took two years for the current administration to rack up that much debt.

White House economist Austan Goolsbee said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that allowing the U.S. government to default on its debt obligations would be “insanity” bringing catastrophic financial effects. Indeed, just one result of ruining the national credit rating would be to drive the cost of interest payments, currently $197 billion a year, to unprecedented levels.

Of course, continuing on our present path is disastrous. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that America already is on track to quadruple interest payments to $778 billion within 10 years. Unfunded liabilities in Social Security and Medicare amount to a staggering $47 trillion, according to the latest reports by trustees. Combined with the public debt, this amounts to $660,000 in liability for each individual who paid taxes to the federal government last year.

It’s undeniable that this country is headed for a fiscal train wreck, but instead of slowing down the train, President Obama and his advisers have been heaping coal into the locomotive in the desperate hope that they won’t be around when the track runs out. Politicians never want to accept pain today if it can be put off until tomorrow.

Tea Party voters made it clear in November that this attitude is no longer acceptable and that the endless cycle of deficit spending must come to a halt. This is likely to be the most important opportunity new members of Congress will have to stand with the people who put them in office. The devastating consequences of undermining the full faith and credit of the U.S. government gives the House Republican majority unprecedented leverage to work out a compromise.

Hard choices have to be made to save the nation. Any deal over the debt ceiling must include reform of an entitlement system that places $2.1 trillion in spending on autopilot. Unnecessary cabinet departments and programs need to be terminated. Civil service rules have to be re-written so that lifetime employment and automatic raises are no longer guaranteed for bureaucrats.

Anything less will perpetuate the “live for today” philosophy that brought America to the brink of financial ruin. It’s time to cut the national credit card.

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