- - Monday, July 18, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” If so, you’re one up on President Obama and Congress, who have spent the last seven-and-a-half years making a bad situation worse.

The federal government was already too big and growing under President George W. Bush, but during the Obama administration, it seems to have been put on steroids. Consider a few disturbing facts from the just-released “Blueprint for Reform,” the latest in the Heritage Foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership” series:

• Federal debt has nearly doubled, from $9.986 trillion at the end of 2008 to $19.207 trillion in May 2016. That’s “trillion” with a “t” — 12 zeros. For perspective: 1 million seconds is 12 days, 2 billion is 31 years, and 1 trillion seconds ago? Roughly 30,000 B.C. It’s a huge, huge number.

• By year’s end, gross debt will have grown from 68 percent of the economy in 2008 to 105 percent, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

• The growing debt is expected to double what the government spends on annual debt service payments within five years, and quadruple them over the next 10 years — from $253 billion in 2016 to $839 billion in 2026.

Think we can tax our way out of this? We can’t. Even if it was a wise idea to extract still more money from productive Americans who make our economy work (hint: it’s not), we’re talking about unsustainable rates of increase.

Not when it comes to national security, though. There, apparently, budget cuts are happily embraced. Indeed, years of defense reductions have left us with a smaller, weaker military. What timing, too — right when global threats seem to be metastasizing at an alarming rate.

On top of this, there’s been an unparalleled expansion of the regulatory state during the past eight years. The Obama administration has imposed 229 major rules since 2009 at a cost of $108 billion annually (according to the regulatory agencies’ own numbers).

Yet even this understates the economic impact of these rules. As “Blueprint” notes: “The actual costs are far greater, both because costs have not been fully quantified for a significant number of rules, and because many of the worst effects — loss of freedom and opportunity, for example — are incalculable.”

The next president and Congress clearly have their work cut out for them. Fixing this mess will require a lot of work and willpower, but it’s not impossible. High on the list must be rebuilding our military. But beyond that, we need to:

• Enact pro-growth tax reform: Right now, we have an outdated tax system that extracts too much from our economy. We need one that will raise only the revenue needed to fund the limited government our Founders intended. That means low rates on a broad base, for one thing, as well as minimal compliance costs for taxpayers.

• Balance the budget: It’s been balanced before, and it can be again. That means driving down federal spending (though no more defense cuts) and pushing meaningful entitlement reform, not raising taxes.

• Reduce the regulatory burden: New rules should undergo an impact analysis before a floor vote in Congress, and every major regulation should require congressional approval. “Sunset” dates should also be mandatory.

• Repeal harmful laws. Start with Obamacare, which is unworkable and unaffordable, then move on to Dodd-Frank, which greatly expanded government control of the financial sector.

• Reform welfare, which fails the poor. The $1 trillion price tag is much too high (and rising), but of greater concern is the fact that the system discourages self-sufficiency. Work requirements are essential, both for taxpayers and the poor.

Voters are definitely in a “Network” frame of mind this election — mad as hell and refusing to take it anymore. Only the kind of substantive changes outlined above can keep the national mood from darkening still more.

Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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