A quote from George Orwell on freedom of press goes like this, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
This quote gets lost in the political rhetoric of today, as the media on both sides of the political spectrum report, “what the [insert party] do not want you to know.” However, there is an issue that affects current and future Americans that is rarely discussed by either party anymore. That issue is of course, the $20 trillion and rising national debt.
When the national debt is discussed in debates or talk shows, each politician or expert usually points their finger at the opposing party. This makes them half right. Both parties have put us on an unsustainable fiscal path, and the future of our nation depends on both sides of the aisle telling their constituents what they do not want to hear: our country is on an unsustainable fiscal path and big policy changes and sacrifices must occur in order for the next generation to succeed.
Leaders from both parties acknowledge our fiscal situation is poor, but rarely acknowledge that to fix our situation unpopular changes will have to occur. While most Members of Congress wants to ‘bring home the bacon’ for his or her state or district, in our current fiscal climate, chances are they are hurting their constituents more than they are helping. Indeed, every dollar we spend today must be paid back by future taxpayers with interest, placing a huge burden on current and future Americans.
According to the independent Congressional Research Service, “Such debt eventually must be repaid, either through spending reductions, tax increases, or combination of the two, and may also generate crowding out that could reduce future economic productivity.” Essentially, accumulating debt hinders future economic growth and opportunity.
Independent agencies like the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and even the Obama administration, all agree that “the current set of fiscal policies will lead to an unsustainable debt burden if left unchanged.” However, when discussing the national debt, the biggest driver of it often gets overlooked because it is such a polarizing issue. That issue is of course, entitlement programs.
A reality that many lawmakers refuse to acknowledge is that our entitlement programs are on an unsustainable path as well. Social Security is projected to run out of funds in 2034 and Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust is projectedto be depleted by 2028. Despite barrelling towards bankruptcy, Congress has not addressed the entitlement program issue since 1983, and it is not hard to see why.
Any time a Member of Congress or Presidential candidate brings up the idea of fixing our entitlement programs, the opposing party or candidate says they want to steal from beneficiaries of the program or “push grandma over the cliff.” This rhetoric is irresponsible, and if Congress does nothing to change the fiscal course of these entitlement programs, beneficiaries can expect to see their benefits reduced or eliminated do to Congress’s inaction.
As a young Ronald Reagan said in his famous ‘A Time For Choosing’ speech, “Are we so lacking in business sense that we cannot put this program on a sound actuarial basis, so that those who do depend on it won’t come to the cupboard and find it bare?”
The Trump Administration has vowed not to touch entitlement programs, but has also vowed to address our debt and poor fiscal situation. However, our fiscal situation simply cannot be solved without addressing our entitlement programs. Any elected official or media personality that says so is kidding themselves.
Entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are essential to those who receive benefits, and we should keep our promise to current beneficiaries. But doing nothing to fix the massive structural problems in these programs cannot be an option. You may not want to hear it, but the longer we wait to reform our entitlement programs, the more our debt grows, and the better chance future Americans grow up in a fiscal nightmare.