Congress and the debt: Make America weak again

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To hear the Congress tell it, wars and tax cuts are a good thing. Medicare and Social Security are mentioned in dis- dain, as though “entitlement” were a dirty word.

The greatest threat to our national security is not the Mueller investigation, or immigrants, or any of the other hobgoblins conjured up weekly in the White House. The true peril, like a great storm gathering on the horizon, is our federal debt.

A new Congressional Budget Office report notes that in two years, the excess of federal spending over revenue is projected to surpass a trillion dollars and remain as much or more for the indefinite future. And the Republican tax bill, recently signed, will add $1.9 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

To oversimplify, the government will need to print more money with which to pay its bills. More money in circula- tion tends to increase inflationary trends, adding to the cost of goods and services without any noticeable boost to the economy. Wallets are stretched when a $5 item becomes $6 or $7, or a service that was $10 yesterday becomes $12 with no change upward in quality or benefit. Household budgets are squeezed when that mortgage payment or car loan is increased five or six percent. Farm income is pressed by looming trade wars, low grain and livestock prices and increased production costs. That’s only the beginning of inflation.

When congressional Republicans and the president talk about the need to cut spending in Washington, they don’t really mean it.

We have spent untold trillions on our folly of war and insurgency in the Middle East, now entering the 19th year. We have troops in Africa, adding to the drain of blood and treasure, much of it put callously as “off the books” at the Pentagon. And the Congress goes along, increasing the appropriations and looking the other way in the name of “national security.”

Instead of any sensible debate over Pentagon spending, or that $25 billion border wall or other wasteful mili- tary ventures, the Congress throttles our ability to pay at least part of the invoice by cutting taxes, mostly for the wealthy.

At the same time, aid to the elderly is demonized. Republican leaders demand cuts to “entitlements,” namely Medicare and Social Security, casting these benefits and those who receive them as a terrible drain on the federal treasury. They speak as though filching on promises to our own citizens, building walls at our border, and drop- ping bombs on other lands will make America a stronger country.

What will make America better, is an honest look at ourselves and our priorities. We did that once, in December 2010, when a bipartisan commission appointed by President Obama came up with a blueprint for returning sanity to the federal budget. That blueprint was known as Simpson-Bowles, named for the commission’s leading fig- ures: former Congressman Alan Simpson, a conservative Republican from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff for President Clinton. Their politics were disparate, but they arrived at compromise and campaigned for their reform, a plan that became a bill. Speaker Paul Ryan, then chairman of the House Budget Committee, was a member of the commission and once a Simpson-Bowles advocate.

The plan recommended cutting federal spending by $2 trillion over ten years and, at the same time, raising $1 tril- lion in new tax revenues. The plan also would make further reforms to Social Security, including another increase in the program’s retirement age. It would also cut future ben- efit increases for Medicare and high-income workers.

The Simpson-Bowles bill failed because Republican leaders promised to squash any program or measure that Obama favored in the slightest. The Congress has since looked the other way, cutting taxes and revenues, and increasing spending mostly for things that go boom, up in smoke.

Until the Congress develops a backbone and acquires some sense, the waste abroad will continue, and the only thing getting stronger in America will be that inflationary storm banked on the horizon.

‒ JOHN MARSHALL

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