Democrats are fond of being outraged when the opposition party distorts reality for political gain. See: Burning, Flag; and Crime, Soft On.
So, as it pertains to our discussion of the national debt, certainly Democrats would never dream of using similar scare tactics over such important issues as Medicare and Social Security — unless, of course, it might win them an election or two. In that case, all bets are off.
Strip out all the politics from the debt debate and here are the facts.
In 2000, the United States had balanced budgets projected for as far as the eye could see, and plans to eliminate the debt altogether in 10 years.
Three things happened: One was the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Two was the Twin Towers attack that led to two horribly expensive wars. Third was the Obama stimulus needed to staunch the financial crisis brought on by a lack of federal oversight and regulation that had its roots in the Clinton administration.
Much of what you hear about the national debt is hype. Yes, it’s heart-stopping when you see those national debt clocks showing that it’s growing tens of thousands of dollars a second. But as a percent of GDP, it’s not a record, nor is it projected to be as the decade plays forward. And, if you judge an administration by its ability to hold down the federal debt, then your favorite president of the last 70 years is — Jimmy Carter.
The goal should be not to eliminate, but to reduce the debt to a manageable level, where it is not a threat to interest rates or economic growth. And, like dieting, it’s not a matter of eating less without exercising or exercising without eating less. We need cuts and we need more revenue.
If the national debt matters to you, then the Bush tax cuts must be allowed to expire. There is no other honest way to look at it. This is not opinion or theory, this is historical fact. Reagan cut taxes and the debt exploded. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton raised taxes and the debt shrank. George W. Bush cut taxes and the debt exploded again.
If the debt does not bother you as much, then you can advocate for lower taxes with a clear conscious. But it is not possible to pay your bills by decreasing revenue.
Nor can you pay your bills while spending more than you take in. However, no meaningful good is accomplished by cutting spending on, say, national parks. You might believe that agricultural subsidies are messed up beyond belief, and you would be right. But while it would be good policy, ending ag subsidies will have no effect on the debt.
Aside from interest on the debt itself, only three areas of spending are large enough to matter: Defense, health care and Social Security.
Republicans have been much maligned, and properly so, for protecting their rich friends from taxation. But anyone who takes offense needs to be twice as irritated at Democrats for not only failing to bend on entitlements, but for using the issue to scare the most vulnerable segments of our population.
We’ve seen this before, specifically when Bush II advanced a sensible plan for privatization of Social Security. There was absolutely no thought given as to whether this plan might be good for the public; all that mattered was that it provided Democrats with a political hammer to konk the opposition in the head. And, unfortunately, it worked.
So rather than give the current GOP Medicare plan any serious consideration, Democrats are once again cackling maniacally, believing that Republicans have handed them a golden campaign issue on a silver platter. Maybe so, but it’s a pity.
On entitlements, I will offer myself as a guinea pig.
My heaviest tool is a laptop, and my most strenuous day involves remembering the ever-changing password to our online timecard program. So why should I get to retire at 62 and some steelworker has to labor until he’s 67?
God willing, I should be able in retirement to afford a heftier drug copay and routine, noncatastrophic medical costs. Why shouldn’t I pay these costs, especially when there are elderly people who are having to choose between medication and heat?
I am arguing against my own benefit, it is true. But how blessed will I feel if I don’t need taxpayer subsidized food, medicine, shelter and income? As Medicare reform architect U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan said, we need “less help for the wealthy and more for the poor and sick.”
Isn’t that what the Democrats are supposed to be all about?
Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.