Neither major party in American politics takes our debt crisis seriously.
It is a bold claim to face, and it is one that certainly has its exceptions on both sides of the aisle. Even so, the recent news that the 2018 federal deficit has grown to $779 billion, the highest in six years, is a watershed moment for contemporary American politics.
After campaigning against the Democratic-held House and Senate and Democratic president in 2010, Republicans captured a majority of seats in the House by promising the public they would restore sanity to the government’s finances. Then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan encapsulated the new Republican House majority’s apparent resolve, pronouncing “no longer can Washington endlessly spend money it does not have.”
Fast forward to 2017, and a Republican-held House, Senate, and White House passed and signed into law a series of tax cuts with no offsets for the $1 trillion in expected revenue losses. Mere months later, the same “fiscally responsible” Republican party passed the infamous $1.3 trillion omnibus budget blowout.
Paul Kane of the Washington Post’s declaration that “deficit hawks are dead, and few in Washington can muster any outrage” seems more like a case of stating the obvious than ever. Financial observer James Grant — author of a biography on President John Adams, who made his position on rampant government debt clear — points out the chilling fact that “it took the United States 193 years to accumulate its first trillion dollars of federal debt.” We now run annual deficits that dare to meet that number.
Grant also quotes Alexander Hamilton’s conclusion that “creation of debt should always be accompanied with the means of extinguishment.” Far from of extinguishment, Congress has repeatedly demonstrated their apathy by fanning the flames of endless spending.
Only after the political black eye of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) deficit projections that exemplified the inability of the Republican-held Congress to reign in reckless spending, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) suggested entitlement reform as a means of addressing the burgeoning crisis. While the optimist can tout these intimations as hope for the future, Sen. McConnell’s declaration less than one year ago that he “would not expect to see [entitlement reform] on the agenda” suggests his rhetoric is more pre-midterm posturing than a legislative priority.
He is accurate in noting that tackling our massive debt problem will require hard choices to be made on both sides of the aisle. Right now, both parties are taking the easy road.
Considering the somber tone of this article, one thing is clear: Congress needs to recover its legislative vigor and get to work tackling a very real and very serious national problem instead of worrying about the next election.
Reports like the recent Congressional deficit total and forecasts that U.S. national debt is growing more rapidly than GDP are only expected to grow in their frequency and scope. Time is of the essence, and younger generations hoping to inherit a prosperous future will need officials in government who possess the courage to break Congress’s fiscal negligence.
Since the decision-making dynamics of Washington appear to revolve around election narratives rather than doing the right thing, younger voters ought to be motivated to make action on our looming debt crisis a top priority. Our future depends on it.