Step right this way, folks! Under the Big Dome! See fire-breathing members of Congress and back-stabbing aides battle the most horrific and humongous monster since Godzilla hit the big screen – the Great National Debt! Watch in awe as Ringmaster Barack Obama uses his whip of fear to draw the masses to frenzy.
The deadline by which Congress must decide to increase the nation’s debt limit or find ways other than borrowing to pay the interest on the huge national debt, is only days away. The finger-pointing, demagoguery, and trickery are reaching a fever pitch unseen since South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks took a cane to Sen. Charles Sumner on the Senate floor in 1856.
While no canings have yet occurred in the context of the current debt-limit debate (at least none have been reported), the sophistry and gimmickry has been just as excruciating to watch. And the nimbleness with which both Democrats and Republicans contort themselves to avoid touching the critical issue of entitlement reform truly should land some of them on “Dancing with the Stars.”
House Republicans have drawn their line in the sand — “Cut, Cap and Balance.” This plan purports to reduce the deficit by half and gradually lower spending over the next 10 years. It also calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment. The plan passed the House, and has been defeated in the Senate.
The faults in the House GOP plan are obvious. It carves out a huge exception for the “war on terror”; it fails to tackle entitlement spending; and it touts spending cuts that are so far out that many will never materialize. The proffered Balanced Budget Amendment incorporates broad exceptions that no future president or congressional majority would even break a sweat complying with in order to increase spending.
Then there is the oddly-named “Gang of Six” — a bipartisan handful of Senators who have fashioned a plan that includes largely unspecified cuts of $3.7 trillion over the next decade. It leaves to future congressional committees the task of determining what those cuts will actually be – essentially guaranteeing most of them will never be realized. The Gang’s plan also includes $1.0 trillion or more in new revenues. These revenue increases – never referred to as “tax increases” – would come largely through reducing or eliminating numerous deductions in the current income tax system, including the home mortgage deduction.
The philosophy underlying the Gang of Six plan can be summed up in two sentences: “Trust us; we promise to make cuts 10 years from now.” And, “A half century of runaway spending by Washington will be paid for by increasing the taxes on ordinary Americans.” This is what passes for “fairness” in Washington – Congress and presidents spend, and the American people are punished by having their taxes raised.
Even the pass given defense spending by the GOP is likely to run into difficulty. Some Republicans — including more than one running for the presidential nomination – call for spending even more on defense. These “Super Hawks” make such assertions notwithstanding the fact that the current level of defense spending, as analyzed by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, constitutes the “highest level since World War II.”
Also apparently ignored by both sides involved in the current Great Debt Debate, is the cold, hard fact that Medicare and Social Security entitlements have committed the American people to nearly $62 trillion in future, unfunded liabilities. These unfathomable amounts of money constitute additional debt. However, this “debt” falls conveniently within Washington’s large blind spot.
Given such selective vision, it is no wonder the Debt Ceiling Circus continues; tragically but conveniently diverting attention from the very real fiscal catastrophe at America’s doorstep.
By Bob Barr — The Barr Code